The Edge of Heaven
After a long dreamless sleep we woke up refreshed. Julie got up first, and went straight to open the window to let in some light.
All I heard was "Oh my God, that's amazing" I got up and joined her to see for myself the reason for her wonder. I could only repeat the "OMG".
We were right on the edge of what they call the caldera, staring into what remained of a mighty volcano. It erupted some three and a half thousand years ago with such force it blew itself apart. It was such a spectacular sight.
There was a harsh beauty to its rugged cliffs rising a thousand feet from the deep blue waters of the Aegean sea. They curved from the right almost completing a full circle. At its tip a white-washed village clung onto the edge.
We took a moment to pinch ourselves. It was a dream to be here. We felt so fortunate.
Today was our 29th Wedding Anniversary and we couldn't have picked a more breathtaking place to celebrate it. There is simply no other place like it on earth. We felt like Zeus and Hera standing on the edge of heaven.
It was at this moment Julie reminded me that I was standing at the window stark bollock naked and suggested that perhaps I should put something on. "What a rather good idea, dear" I said snapping out of my trance.
We got dressed, sat outside on out patio and simply soaked it all in. Surprisingly it was a little cold and the ground still wet. The morning dew was still hanging around as the sun hadn't yet risen over the hill behind us.
We had an enviable position at the hotel. We felt like we were Lording it over our subjects below us who were sat outside eating their breakfast. Once again we felt so lucky to think we had booked the cheap rooms below those who were below us but found ourselves elevated to the Honeymoon suite.
Late last night when we arrived at hotel White we had arranged for breakfast to be delivered at 10am and it arrived precisely on time.
We also made our choices late last night but come this morning neither of us could remember what we had ordered. We were pleasantly surprised. I was happy with my choice of a mushroom omelette. It tasted incredible. The orange juice was amazing, so sweet yet refreshing.
We also had a bowl of fresh fruit, yogurt with honey and our favourite which was toasted wholemeal bread drizzled with honey.
The only disappointment was that Julie had forgotten to order any "hot" breakfast and was now craving a bacon butty.
It was so idyllic sitting outside, eating our breakfast looking out over this incredible view.
The streets of Imerovigli were practically deserted. The peace and quiet added to this beautiful aura that surrounded us.
That was one benefit of visiting during the low season, in fact this was so low season that some places had already closed for the winter months.
After breakfast we lazed about spending most of the morning outside on our circular day bed. Every now and then we'd get up to look at that view again.
The village of Oia at the tip of the caldrea looked like the perfect Santorini image and across the pond, on the small island of Thirasia at the end of a crazy zig-zag path another white washed village topped the cliffs like the icing on the cake.
It was a view that we could never tire of looking at.
The wi-fi at the hotel was decent so we FaceTimed our grandkids to share the view with them.
It was 10am on a Sunday morning at home and they were all still in their pyjamas. One by one they all came to have a look. Rory, Tyler, Freya, Harley and last but not least Ada. Each one of them unique, all of them so beautiful.
At 12pm we made a move and headed out for a little adventure to Skaros Rock, a little outcrop jutting into the caldera here in Imerovigli. It wasn't far at all. We could see it from our hotel.
Then again you could pretty much see the entire Western side of the island from our hotel so that didn't mean much.
We followed a path that ran through the village. It continued all the way down to the island's capital Thira.
Looking at it now it's difficult to imagine that Skaros was once the location of a thriving medieval citadel that was the island's capital in the 13th century. Nothing remains today after beeing raised to the ground by countless earthquakes, especially one devastating shake in the 16th century.
After only a couple of minutes we turned off the "coastal" path (for want of a better description) and followed some steps down.
We walked along side some hotels to start with before leaving the village behind and continue down along the path cut into the red volcanic rock. It was well maintained and not as daunting as it first seemed. Julie was quite happy to stroll down without being effected by her fear of heights.
Before long we came to a small church. It was quite a simple white-washed building, hardly any bigger than a bus stop. I'm sure a congregation of anything more than six would have filled it.
It had a small blue cross on top of a short bell tower to signify it was a place of worship and not just another pretty white-washed building.
The sun had well and truly risen by now. The white was dazziling bright and it was getting rather warm. We were working up quite a sweat in the 26C heat so we took a moment to stand in the shade behind the church to catch our breath before moving on.
The lower down we got the more dramatic the view became. We ould see all the way down the coast where Imerovigli and Thira sprawled out along the cliff edge as almost one continuous town. Then just beyond them Mount Gavrilos which looked like the highest point on the island but was in fact only the 3rd tallest hill on Santorini.
Julie wasn't in the mood to stop to admire the view as it made her realise our precarious position half way down the vertignious cliff. "That's quite a drop down to the water" she said quite matter of a factly.
She was just focused on the next step down and then the next as we continued to zig-zag our way downwards. We reached the point where we were level with the outcrop but still had some way to go. In a cruel twist we had to go down and then climb back up to reach the rock. Julie was rather unimpressed.
"I guess it's not a holiday unless you've pushed me out of my comfort zone" she moaned only slightly in jest.
When we reached the lowest point we again took a few minutes to catch our breath in the shade of a large slab of rock. We weren't alone. It wasn't exactly busy but there was a steady flow of people coming and going.
With our breath restored we pushed on up the steps that lead to the base of Skaros Rock. From there onwards the path narrowed to that more suited to goat's and other more nimble creatures than ourselves.
It was hardly two feet wide with a drop to our left straight down to the sea. Stumble here and you would surely fall to your death.
"Don't look down" was probably the worse thing I could have said. Julie instictively looked down and her legs turned to jelly.
It was a case of head down, hold hands and one step at a time.
It didn't help when we met some oncoming traffic along along this section. Julie stepped to right, almost hugging the rock to let them pass.
We skirted around the rock of Skaros as the path eventually pulled away from the edge into a more central location. Sat on a small rock we took a moment to regain ones composure.
We had come to a fork in the road. One path lead up, scaling the mighty rock. "Knock yourself out" said Julie but I had no interest in climbing to the top.
I had my mind set on finding the Chapel of Agios Ioannis Apokefalistheis perched halfway down the far side of the cliff.
We came to the end of the path and looked down where we saw the white washed church below. That view was enough for Julie. She was quite happy to go no further.
I tried to persuade her to follow me over the edge but she was fine where she was, thankyou very much.
"Does this feel like the ends of earth?" I asked. I didn't get a reply only a wry smile.
At first the path down appeared narrow and steep but after the first corner it widened out and became a comfortable descent. Not wanting to leave Julie on her own for too long I skipped down. It felt plenty safe enough to do so. All the way down I thought about turning back to let Julie know but by the time I made the decision I had already reached the bottom.
For a very brief moment I had the place to myself. I sat on the wall looking out across the caldera towards Thirasia.
The tranquility was so powerful.
More people arrived but it remained very peaceful. Everybody seemed to be in awe of this spectacular location. The silence was only broken when the bells briefly chimed adding to the already wonderful.
I climbed up to the back of the chapel to take a few photographs before leaving, bounding like the proverbial mountain goat up the steps back to Julie.
We retraced our steps back, skirting around the base of Skaros rock. The narrow path wasn't any easier the second time around for Julie.
She noticed to the side several piles of stones carefully balanced one on top of the other to create a pillar.
"What the hell are they?" she asked "and why the hell would anyone stop here to do that?"
Needless to say we didn't stop to build our own cairn. I didn't see the point in it either. I didn't find them meaningful or spiritual but more of an egotistical erection.
It wasn't long before we had reached the sanctuary of the mainland but we were only halfway back. Ahead of us was the slow climb back up to Imerovigli.
We worked up quite a sweat as the sun beat down. With no hats, no sun cream, no water we felt a little foolish by how ill prepared we were for our walk in the sunshine. At every avaiable slither of shade we stopped for some respite. There weren't many opportunities. It was quite demanding. We hadn't done much walking recently and were certainly out of condition.
When we came to the litte church on the corner we sat behind it in the shade. Julie was dripping with sweat and experiencing some pins & needles from the dehydration. What she needed was some water.
We were distracted briefly by this scruffy little dog that scampered around the corner. It sat down in the shade beside us, gave us a good sniff, then moved on when its owner caught up.
Moving on ourselves, Julie could only manage little bursts before having to sit down again.
I decided to go on ahead to find some water for her. From where we stood I could see a cafe called The Blue Note Cafe so I bounded up the steps as quickly as I could. When I got there I didn't see the steps up to the cafe, instead I walked in through a door into their kitchen. I startled the cook who was busy preparing something.
"Water?" I pleaded. Instead of shooing me away he ran upstairs and returned with a bottle of ice cold mineral water for €2.
I must have looked desperate.
By the time I returned to Julie she had nearly reached the top of the path from Skaros Rock. She was so grateful for the water. Half of the litre bottle went down in a flash.
Rehydrated we continued onwards and upwards along the coastal path through Imerovigli. It wasn't long before we were seeking the sanctuary of the shade of another church.
Agios Georgios was in quite a dramatic location perched on a lump of black volcanic rock that seemed to have poured out of the earth.
More importantly it gave great shade where we sat for a good ten minutes recovering our senses. Once fully recouperated our thoughts quickly turned to lunch.
Instead of following the coastal path out of Imerovigli we took a left up some more steps passing along the way quite a few hotels and restaurants.
None of the eateries caught our eye so we continued all the way to the top of the hill where we came to not-exactly-a-square but it was an open space where we found a memorial to fallen heroes who died during the what the Greeks call the Asia Minor Catastrophe.
During the First World War there was fierce fighting between Turkey and Greece. When the peace had come to the rest of Europe they continued to fight. The Ottoman Empire was broken up and when Greece moved to take land it believed was promised to it as compensation war broke out again. It was a war that Greece lost. There's been a bitterness between the two countries ever since.
A little further along we came to yet another church. Wow they do like their churches here. There's one literally around every corner.
They all seem fairly newly built. I suppose that's the price of living on an island prone to earthquakes. The last big one shook Santorini in 1956. Many buildings were destroyed and people died.
We walked down towards the church to have a closer look. There was hardly anyone else about. A few cars rolled through the village and the odd local walked by but that was it. It felt like we had the whole of Imerovigli to ourselves.
It really was the end of the tourist season. There were two restaurants nearby but both were closed, not for a siesta but shut for winter. One in particular called Anogi disappointed Julie. All the Trip Advisor reviews raved about the belly pork.
Concerned that we may have to go without lunch we walked to where I knew there were two other restaurants. We checked out both their menus.
Anestis Tavern was known as a Gyros Grill and renowned for its lamb dish. Julie liked the sound of that but there wasn't much for me, the awkward vegetarian. It was also situated right on the road, and whilst it wasn't busy if you sat outside you were feet away from the exhaust fumes.
Bella Thira on the other hand was off road and its tables were outside on a pleasant patio. They also had a vegetarian section on their menu. So no contest.
The menu was also very reasonably priced. The appetisers or starters were €5 - €6 each and the main courses were around €10 - €12.
I went for three appetisers, spanakopita, the spinach and feta pie that are one of my favourites, domatokeftedes, Santorini's signature tomato fritter dish, and sagnaki, a fried cheese which I had never tried before.
They all arrived together and I was surprised by the portion size, 4 triangles of spanakopita, 4 tomato fritters and this huge slab of cheese served in a hot cast iron pan.
The spanakopita were the least tastiest of my three dishes. I only ate one and left the rest. They were a bit greasy. The domatokeftedes on the other hand were absolutely delicious. They had a wonderfully sweet tomato flavour. They looked a little anaemic but they had much better flavour than last night's fritters.
Then came the climax, the piece de resistence, the saganaki cheese. It was a life changing experience. Yes, it may have been a coronary on a plate but the oozy cheesy mass was spectacular.
Julie's swordfish was equally impressive. I know that size doesn't matter but this steak was a whopper and it was chargrilled and marinated to perfection. Julie loved it.
When the bill arrived it came to €35. The half a carafe of white wine and glass of ice cold beer had pushed the price up. I rather embarrasingly rummaged around my pockets and only mustered up €34.30.
The waiter was very kind and told ud not to worry about it. We promised to repay his kindness by coming back here to eat and leave a handsome tip. He was very gracious and said "Yes, come back and eat but don't worrry about the money"
Before we left we got chatting to an Australian couple. They were newlyweds and on the last leg of their European honeymoon tour. They had spent the last four weeks travelling across the continent's most impressive cities, Paris, Barcelona, Munich, Rome, and were finishing off here and Mykynos before flying home from Athens.
What a grea trip. We spent alomst half an hour chatting away about travelling, being married and life in general.
We return to our beautiful honeymoon suite at White and spent the afternoon lounging on the day bed enjoying the warmth of the sun. I drifted off to sleep. (with a blue towel over my head as added sun protection)
When I woke up a few hours later the sun was setting. Julie was asleep inside.
I had a closer look at the hot tub, peeling back the cover to find the water inside was already bath tub warm. So I got the champagne out of the fridge and woke Julie up to join me.
We just sat there sipping the Piper Hiedersink champagne, looking out over the caldera, watching the sun drop from the sky.
Once again we felt like pinching ourselves. It felt like the perfect dream. We were moved to tears by how special the moment was to us. One that will live long in the memory. "Happy anniversary darling"
The moment was ruined briefly when I switched on the jacuzzi jets. WHOOSH I turned them off almost immediately. All that noise was disturbing the peace and taking away one of the elements that made the experience so special.
When the champagne ran out we got out the hot tub, covered it back up and dried outselves off. Stepping out of the warm water into the coolness of the evening air was quite a shock. Without the warmth of the sun it was cold enough to set our teeth a chattering.
Back in the room we got ourselves ready to go out for our anniversary meal. I had made a reservation on-line about amonth ago. We partly regretted it as we both would have been happier returning to Bella Thira.
We walked the very short distance to restaurant Avocado. It was closer than many in-house restaurants at some hotels we've stayed at.
We were over half an hour early for our reservation so we continued to walk into the village, past a floodlit outdoor basketball court. There wasn't anyone using it so I'm not sure why the lights were on. However two dogs were making the most of the facilities running around having a whale of a time chasing each other
We ended up at Jimmy's supermarket where we bought a bottle of wine and some baklava for the room later and some SPF30 sun cream from a pharmacy a little further along.
There was enough time to pop the shopping back to our room and still be at Avocado in time for our 8pm reservation.
The place was packed. Almost every table was taken. We sat inside and were given iPads for menus which was a first. It was quite a good idea as we could flick through the menu, looking at photographs of the different dishes.
Despite all this wonderful technology we stillhad to refer to the paper menus to find the prices. They had neglected to display the pricecs on their iPad menu.
We ordered two starters, a plate of garlic mushrooms which tasted incredible with such a rich and intense flavour. Although at €14 it was a bit steep.
The second starter was called a Dakos style cheesecake and was such a great idea.
Dakos is a traditional crispbread from Crete and is more often served as a salad with cheese and tomatoes. Here they had constructed the salad into layers to look like a cheesecake. Genius.
It tasted lovely if a little salty but that was fine as a bottle of Santorini Brewing Company's Red Donkey beer washed it down nicely. (Courtesy of a Golden sober exemption Ticket donated by David, Juile's brother.)
They had their full drove available, a yellow donkey, a red donkey, a white donkey and a crazy donkey.
Our main course choices arrived. Mine was a zucchini risotto with spearmint oil. It sounded amazing but failed to live up to my expectations. The rice was nice but I think "nice" was as good as it deserved. I couldn't taste much spearmint which was its X-factor ingredient.
Julie ordered the pork chop. When it arrived the large slab of meat looked impressive on the plate. However it also failed to live up to expectations. It tasted salty like a gammon or what we would call a bacon chop, which in itself isn't a bad thing but this steak was huge, more hippopotamus than pig.
Julie couldn't eat it all and ended up asking for a "doggy bag" to take half of it back with us.
We were a little surprised when the bill arrived. At €82 it was much more expensive than we expected. Once again I didn't have enough cash in my pocket to cover it so I had to quickly nip back to the room to get some more.
We felt a bit ripped off and only paid the €82. We didn't leave a tip which was a little unfair on the staff as they were incredibly friendly. One of the waiters had told us, after learning it was our anniversary, told us about his failed love life and that he was indeed heartbroken after recently breaking up with his partner of six years.
By the time we returned to our room it was 11pm. Despite being tired enough to sleep we sat outside beneath the stars. We simply didn't want today to end.