My new friend, Anna-Marie, and her colleague Jan are staying in Firostefani, a village a few kms from Oia where I stay. Today, I am to meet them in Fira, the capital of Santorini, as there are tavernas and some shops open there.
I wander up to the bus stop and wait just 20 mins before it swings into the square and turns to face Fira. The driver refuses my money – I pay at the end of the trip, E1.40 for the ride.
I sit right behind the driver and, as is typical in Greece, he slurps on his frappe (along with Greek coffee, Greece’s favourite drink – a coffee, milk and sugar conconction) and sucks at his cigarette, which he hangs out the window for most of the hair-raising ride along the edge of the hills, and around blind corners. On one side, the cliffs soar upwards; on the other a dramatic slope downward where giant terraces have been carved into the hills to maximise arable space. Santorini’s volcanic soil is notoriously dry, ideal for growing the famous Santorini tomatoes, and fava (which is like a yellow lentil, cooked and pureed, served warm and topped with red onion, olives and a spurt of olive oil).
I arrive early in Fira, and wander through the busy (well, relatively busy) town centre to the edge of the caldera, where I stand for 45 minutes, in awe of the view.
Just after 1pm, we meet, and on the recommendation of Anna-Marie’s hosts, we eat at Nikolas Taverna, just off the main square. Nikolas is run by a comedian who serves proper Greek food and, as usual, a group of men gather in the corner to smoke and drink Greek coffee. We share fava, saganaki (fried cheese, very healthy), lamb with lemon, veal with onions and tomato, and stuffed cabbage rolls, all of which are fabulous. At the end, we are given sweet biscuits to “cleanse the palates” and we immediately fall in love with these honey-tasting delights, filled with sweet filling and walnuts.
Afterwards, we wander into a clothing store called “Woman’s Paradise” and, although we don’t find paradise (alas, it is more elusive than this) we do find a dazzling array of hand-made clothing and jewellery. Then, we head to the bakery for supplies for Anna-Marie and Jan (they cannot handle any more feta) and we cannot resist the home-made gelato.
At the bus stop on the way home, an old man with dark glasses sits and waits. When a tourist walks in, he pulls out of his top pocket a small plastic bag, containing a booklet on Santorini. “One euro” he offers. “Oki” (No). He offers it to me three times.
When I reach Oia, I run into Leandros and Rose. Rose has returned from the physiotherapist, who has worked on his back. The pain is killing him. He asks “Is everything OK?”. “Of course, I hope you feel better soon”. And I tramp down my 90 steps back to my little paradise.