In 2015 my husband became unwell, prompting him to retire early for a period of time in order to make memories as a family. We took our children out of school for 7 weeks and travelled through Europe exploring the world and making priceless memories with our two youngest daughters. My husband is doing okay now and we don’t regret for a moment the financial sacrifice we made to do this – money can be replaced but memories and time together cannot. This post is one written in 2015 capturing that adventure and has been posted unchanged and unamended.
After a short flight to Athens and an even shorter flight over to the Greek Island Santorini, we were welcomed with a super helpful driver happy to tell us about the local sights and give us a quick lesson on how to say thank you and please in Greek, all thanks for it being organised by our amazing Travel Agent Dane. We arrived at our gorgeous hotel complete with glistening pool, beautiful white and blue décor, and a wonderfully friendly welcome by reception, who at this terribly late time at night made us hot chocolates and brought us water to help us settle in. After being in the country for less than an hour we knew it was going to be an amazing little stay of only two nights.
Because we only had one full day in Santorini we got up super early and had a lovely breakfast in the hotel before heading out by cab to the local town of Fira. We really couldn’t believe our eyes as we took in the breathtaking scenery that was hidden from us in the darkness of night when we arrived (although I must say that as we rounded the bend toward out hotel on arrival, a cascade of fireworks lit up the sky in the background making us feel even more welcomed). The jagged cliffs in some parts, the high hills in other parts, and really looking down from the top to see the town splayed before us was beautiful. The cab prices were pretty reasonable and a good option considering we didn’t want to waste time waiting for a bus and figuring out where we were going, so we were taken straight down to Fira in very little time.
As we strolled down the streets and looked at all the little shops that were now not so crowded since the summer rush had gone home, we really felt like we were on holiday. We all spent some time (and some money) wandering in and out of shops buying a few pieces of clothing, some local craft, and a delicate Greek Christmas bauble (now in pieces after being dropped when being placed on our Christmas tree – boo!). It was odd to see people swimming at the beach there (hot grey rocky sand) when we dipped our feet in and found it to be FREEZING!!!!!!! I’m sure it would be beautiful in summer though. We considered going to the town of Oia (family for the blue and white churches and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), but we decided that maybe we would do an early morning trip there the following day before checkout and our flight out to Athens. Instead we decided to go on a high seas adventure!!!
Hubby and I booked us and the kids onto an afternoon/evening sailboat trip to visit a volcano, swim in hot springs, dinner, then sunset over Oia from the perspective of the Aegean Sea. We had enough time to go and enjoy a beautiful lunch and a watermelon juice overlooking the ocean, and a yummy greek salad was exactly what I needed after weeks of pastries, chocolate, cheese and pasta. The flavours in all of our dishes were out of this world…we never knew fresh produce could taste so freaking amazing – seriously fresh, full of flavour, fabulous. Then we were ready to board for our big adventure after being driven to the boat by the tour company’s driver.
We boarded the most beautiful sail boat with polished wood and beautiful fixtures, not to mention the good looking lads that caught my teenagers eye! I had never been on a boat quite that far from shore before so of course I felt a little bit nervous about getting vertigo – or the ship sinking…take your pick. But as we pulled away from the dock I felt a little excited for this new adventure we were taking. The first little while was amazing just chilling out at the front of the boat, wind in our hair, excited children running back and forth, and our first stop was an active volcano. The boat docked and we set off with the rest of the passengers to explore. Now keep in mind it was hot, we wore thongs, and we thought the brochure said 1.6 km return…it was 1.6km each way – up – in the heat – on a very hot active volcano – and an easily tired 8 year old that required some carrying! Yes it was worth it when we got to areas that sulphur was smoking out the rocks and the girls being able to learn about volcano eruptions and formations, but it was certainly was good to get back on the boat with our new type of sunburn – volcanic heat burn.
Our next stop brought us to the hot springs and although I was super proud of Mackenzie for going over in a floaty ring with her Dad, I did have a little disappointment in myself for chickening out of the 50m swim to get there. I let my fears overtake me once again and it really made it clear that one goal for this year is overcoming my fear of deep ocean water. Lauren of course was one of the first to jump off the boat and swim over, she is such an adventurous soul willing to try any new adventure in life. They all had a great time though so I was really pleased with that and it wasn’t long before we headed of again to find a spot to anchor for dinner. Dinner was fresh, amazing, and we enjoyed a lovely wine followed by Greek dancing with the rest of the passengers on the ships deck. One thing about Europe is that they are more relaxed about teenagers drinking alcohol with their parents and Lauren had the opportunity to have two half strength strawberry daiquiris under our supervision. It really was a non-event, and with her turning 16 this year I know it wont be long til alcohol is in her peer group. Although I know she makes very smart decisions for someone so young I know she is still human and I am glad that her first experience of alcohol was one that was social only, measured, and of course in the presence of her mother – not her peers.
After dinner we sailed off toward Oia and we were horrified to realise that the total sum of blue domed rooves were 4!!! Four!!! Yes that’s right! The only buildings with a blue domed roof are churches. But still, the sights were amazing, but not as amazing as the sunset over the Aegean Sea as we were anchored right near Oia. Wow is an understatement. Being on the east coast of Australia means that the sun rises from our beaches but sets over the mountains, so this experience was amazing for us all. The only thing I must say that put a bit of a dampener on the evening of dancing and company, was the Aussie girl who was loud, obnoxious, and had the filthiest mouth I have heard in a long while – seriously folks…can we not present ourselves as bogans – not just when we are overseas, but ever!?!?!?
We arrived back late but feeling fulfilled, and when we woke the next morning we decided we were going to just explore our immediate surroundings. We walked up and checked out some local shops near our hotel, posted a parcel back home, and looked for somewhere to eat. Its amazing that it is not uncommon to see people drinking wine early in the day, and really the Europeans don’t get publicly wasted like us westerners…they just seem to know the benefit of moderation. So we found an amazing little bakery that had spinach and feta pastries, and great coffee, so we stopped and enjoyed. As we left Mackenzie went inside to say “afgaristo” which is thankyou, and the lass behind the counter was so overwhelmed by her speaking any amount of greek (I am told there are lots of westerners that don’t bother), that she rushed around the corner exclaiming words like “parakalo” and “princess”, holding Mackenzies face and kissing her cheeks – all we could do is giggle…Mackenzie has sensory processing disorder but took this very well probably due to shock lol. She promptly got a “well done for dealing with that situation so well honey”.
So off we trotted and although we didn’t want to leave we boarded our plane in the tiny little airport in Santorini and headed for Athens for a 2 day exploration of mainland Greece. Although grateful for the adventure we had experienced, our hearts sank that it was almost over.