Santorini: Blue, White and Blackout

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Well, we’ve done it again. Our latest run-in with misadventure struck during our trip to the island paradise of Santorini last week. It never fails. Despite our careful planning and extensive research that goes into preparing for a trip to our next destination, misadventure always finds us. Remember Not Your Average Travelers in Turkey or Bull Run of Another Kind in the countryside of Cataluña? It seems to be waiting in the wings ready to pounce at that perfect moment when you’ve switched to vacation mode and have left the real world behind. “Relaxation? Not so fast!” it taunts. We are uncertain when or how it will strike, but we can be certain it will without fail. Santorini was no exception.

A jewel of the Aegean Sea, Santorini is one of the most famous of the cluster of Greek islands knowns as the Cyclades, and for good reason. The biggest island, Thira, is a crescent shaped outcropping of craggy cliffs left behind from a massive ancient volcanic eruption. Thira faces a handful of other smaller islands that are a result of the submerged volcano. Together, with the water-filled caldera at the center, this circle of islands is called Santorini – and it is undeniably beautiful.

Idyllic white-washed villages cling to the cliffsides as if to stake claim to their rightful position in paradise. Gracefully domed churches of the deepest and softest blues meld with the skies above and the sea below. Winding cobblestone paths saunter in, out, and around cave houses and boutique shops teetering on the edge of land and sea. And then there are the sunsets. Oh, those sunsets! I’m not sure I have ever witnessed Mother Nature put on a more magnetic display of color and beauty. Remember that vacation mode switch I mentioned earlier? The sunset on that first night flipped the vacation switch to “on”.

Or did it?…

Sunset from Ammoudi Port
Sunset over the caldera from Fira

What happens when the one and only power transformer on an island explodes? In August? In Greece? BLACKOUT. The entire island is left without electricity and running water, and it remains this way for nearly two days!! Once the initial panic gave way to frustration and realization that no power meant no showers and no air conditioning after spending a day in the blazing summer sun, I resigned myself to remember that this is Greece. And not only is it Greece, but it is an island far from the mainland. I would have to cast my “fix it now” expectations aside and instead change my perspective to see the positives in this situation.

Oia with power
Oia without power literally five minutes after the picture above was taken.

So, what was the outcome? For those first 36 hours I found the Aegean to be quite refreshing and cleansing after a long day in the sun. Dinners by candlelight were enchanting and romantic. Restaurants hung lanterns from rafters and tree limbs which cast a soft glow in plazas under a harvest moon. Sleeping with the doors open allowed a cool sea breeze to fill the room, the distant sound of crashing waves lulling you to sleep. No wifi, no devices, no TV. We were officially off the grid and loving every minute of it. Establishments, including our hotel, gradually invested in generators that at least provided running water at all times, but power remained touch and go until Saturday, our last day. While we were grateful to have the comforts that electricity brings once again, we found ourselves longing for the simplicity and tranquility of the blackout.

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Dutch Graceland

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Thursday night we found ourselves in the small canal town of Leiden in the Netherlands, sampling some farm fresh cheese and catching up with our friend Walt. I had noticed that Jeff seemed preoccupied by a large canvas painting on the wall. There wasn’t much to ponder with this particular painting – a canvas rectangle divided in half between a royal blue sky and a flat green grass field, a silhouette of a windmill in the background and a curious milk cow gazing out from the foreground. Walt noticed Jeff’s upward stare and said, “Oh, that? Well that’s Holland. Cows, flat fields, and windmills.” We had been to the Netherlands before nearly four years ago but saw nothing beyond the canals and coffee shops of Amsterdam. This time we set out to discover the country beyond city limits, a “Tour de Holland” adventure that would take us along western coastal roads, past northern landscapes, through eastern woodlands, and south to charming canal villages. I had a hunch the painting was missing a few Dutch details.

If I were to make a few small revisions to Walt’s painting, I would first add two black circular swirls connected by a straight line – a bicycle. Like my first visit to Holland, I was amazed at the number of bicycles that were literally everywhere; propped against corner shops, parked in front of homes, decorating canal bridges, or riding along treelined paths in the countryside. Some are well taken care of, others will get you from point A to point B if you’re lucky. Some are brightly painted and others are equipped with baskets of varying sizes. But what stands out the most is that when a bicycle is not in use, it is simply parked – not chained – parked wherever the cyclist can find room. At any given time there could be upwards of fifty bikes resting on a street corner. I was obsessed and so was my camera.

Moving to the background of the painting, I would add a brushstroke of blue-gray at the base of the windmill to represent a canal. Driving around Holland I was surprised to find that canals are not just characteristic of cities but rather the entire country, and they seem to serve many purposes. Some are for navigating, some are for irrigating, and still others create a fencing system to keep livestock confined in the farmers’ fields. As practical as they may be, one thing is for certain; the canals grace the landscape with unexpected charm and beauty. Catch the light on them at just the right angle and they glisten under a beaming sun. It’s no wonder thousands of delicate blossoms call this place home.

 And speaking of flowers, my final revision will require a palette of every color of the rainbow. I would sweep my brush across the canvas, creating seemingly infinite rows of brilliant reds, yellows, purples, greens and everything in between. Soft and graceful or bold and standing proud, there are no distinct petals but rather a sweep of color reaching longingly towards the sun. This is just another one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces and the breath of life in this otherwise ordinary painting.