Greece, Santorini, Travel

Under the Oian Sun(set)

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People flock from all over the world to crowd into Santorini’s Caldera, clamouring over one another with DSLRs and iPhones drawn, because Oia is known for having some of the most gorgeous sunsets in the world. List 25 puts it at number five, lauding it as “probably the most famous place in the world to watch the sunset”, and if it’s good enough for a site as definitive sounding as List 25, it’s good enough for my blog. Tripadvisor even lists “sunsets” as third top thing to do in Santorini—because as breathtaking and miraculous as it is, a sunset is still something as common and mundane as a thing and is something that can be done.

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I’m no good at ranking things or memories. I’ve certainly seen some truly beautiful sunsets, but I couldn’t pinpoint the time or place. Some have happened right at home in B.C., from the office window at my work. Right before I lower the blinds, as I’m dropping all my weight on the rope, I get a clear view of the evening settling into the mountains. Everything is tinted blue—the mountains, the houses, the trees, distant apartment buildings—but as the sun slips into the west, a line of pale pink traces every outline. And if you want me to get truly sappy, some of the best sunsets have been on school roofs and chilly beaches because I was with people I loved, and, as John Lennon (but credited as Lennon-McCartney) said, “love is all you need”.

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I think the truly beautiful part about a sunset is not the descent itself, but the effect it has on its surroundings. The colours bleeding from the sky, the glow of the buildings, the creeping of goosebumps as its final rays leave your skin. I had a hard time with the Oian sunset. My iPhone’s sensitive lighting (either bleaching my screen or casting everything in shadow) and my inability to work my DSLR’s manual settings could never capture any beauty that might be there, so after a few half-hearted snaps, I usually gave up and just tried to watch through unfiltered eyes—though this too was difficult, mainly due to, you know, sun rays scorching my eyeballs. It burned a glaring gold, slipped into a harsh scarlet. Maybe my eyes are just pussywillows, or maybe I should own sunglasses that properly protect from UVA/UVB rays, but it was difficult to enjoy. So instead I’d turn away. And certain as the sun setting in the west, the moon was quietly climbing into the periwinkle sky behind the entire crowd’s back. Part of me wanted to shout at them, berate them for choosing this loud sunset over the humble moon, but the bigger part of me is a hipster-esque prat who likes to keep the best things to myself and then share them all-knowingly on the Internet.

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Greece, Santorini, Travel

To Fira!

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We hiked to Fira. I thought it would be intense but it wasn’t. If I can do it, you can do it—no matter who you are. We passed by cave hotel after cave hotel, with their luxurious pools and luxurious occupants, while we sweated and swotted.

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To quote one Aubrey Graham: “We started from the bottom now we here. We started from the bottom now we halfway here.” At least that’s how I thought it went until I looked up the lyrics for this post.

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Streets, alleyways, and rooftop terrace galore.

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Where Oia is deep blues and crisp whites, Fira is pastel washes. It’s still holiday, but not in a getaway-type like Oia. It’s bigger and busier, ruled by vehicles more than pedestrians. It has those shops where fish nibble the dead skin off your calloused feet. Most importantly, it has a bus that will cart you back to Oia.

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Greece, Santorini, Travel

The Beach

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“You can walk to the beach,” they said. “It is doable,” they said. I suppose it was doable, as we did do it. But what I imagined would be a casual stroll turned into a half-hour trek up and down hills, along unending Prairie-like stretches of road spotted with abandoned houses and crumbling bus stop shelters.

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This was the second time in my life that I accepted a ride from a stranger. But she had a child in the back seat, so she was either a loving mother or a kidnapper having a really good day. Or, possibly, a really terrible mother for unrelated reasons. Either way, one of us would be happy. 

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I was a super  n00b with European beaches and didn’t realize we’d have to pay for it. We sat on the some of the lounge chairs laid out—the convenience of which did make me wonder—forked over a few euros once a guy with a drink tray came up. Because after that half-hour desert hike, why not?

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To be real with you, I truly didn’t mind the walk. As my friends probably know, I love walking and I’m fast. I don’t mean to brag, but I have almost no other physical skills of which to boast so just let me have this. It’s just funnier to think that I was like, wtf is this. In any case, we made our way back up the hill and treated ourselves to huge bowls of pasta. So, really, a good day all around for me.

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Travel

But Blue Skies

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Santorini was the first stop of the pre-Norwich vacation and the first time I’d ever stayed in a hostel. There were no lockers in the rooms, no locks on the dorm doors. We wondered—and often complained half-heartedly—at the breakfast of three slices of bread, a slab of coffee cake, and watered-down orange juice, served with the choice of coffee or tea. We found a mysterious cockroach/beetle by the toilet within the first hour. I pushed through by reminding myself that my cousin had lived alongside cockroaches for two months in her Ottawa apartment. Cockroaches happen. You know, life goes on and all that jazz.

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Most of the people milling around Oia’s narrow and winding starch-white pathways are tourists—perhaps just up for the day on a bus tour or one of those lucky folk staying in a cave hotel. (One day, guys, one day…) On another occasion I would make some obnoxious statement about how I’d rather be where the locals are, roll my eyes at overpriced pasta, be a general ass, but to be honest it was a really nice way to start the trip. Maybe the true way to travel is by meandering, meeting locals by getting lost and asking for directions, stumbling upon restaurants that don’t split the menu between English and the local tongue—maybe that is the only way to get “real experiences”. But Oia is contained; there are only so many paths to stray from. I got to know my way around the uneven stones, getting comfortable prancing through at all hours of the day, ducking in and out of shops, finding where to get the cheapest gyros (and learning how to pronounce it properly). It felt safe, not only in a lack-of-danger sense, but that I was safe to relax, let my judgement-guard down, go into vacation mode. There were certainly day treks to be had elsewhere on the island, but in Oia I was free to climb down the 300 steps to the rocky beach, lounge about on the hostel’s roof deck, browse through postcards and knick knack shops. I was allowed to not feel like I had to be anywhere or do anything other than relax the way I was relaxing.

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I was skimming the Internet the other day and stumbled across the Facebook page for the Youth Hostel Oia. The latest post was a photo of the setting sun with the following words in a curly font: memories last even when the time is past! (Meaning when the time is in the past? When time has passed? Who knows.) When I stayed there (nearly two years ago now—haho remember when this blog was relevant?), the owner had told a group of us that he was planning on closing it soon. It felt like we were being let in on a deep secret; that, out of the hundreds of people who dragged their luggage through the town, down the narrow path, and through the gate each month, we alone had earned his trust with this exclusive information. But he has also just finished regaling us with a tale of the time he’d met Angelina Jolie when she was filming Tombraider on the island, pointing to the room she used for a make-up trailer. If it hadn’t already been obvious by the autographed pictures displayed in the bar, the bored mutters from fellow patrons would’ve been enough to tip me off that this was nothing new. This was the kind of story he told night after night in case of a new guest. But there was just something about the low light of the evening, sipping on drinks and gathered around the plastic deck table. We might’ve been special.

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I don’t think I’ve told anyone about my favourite night in Santorini. Or if I did, I might’ve paraphrased, mentioning a late dinner down in Fira, how we almost ran out of gas on the way back. A few of the other hostel guests had rented a car for the day, and on my penultimate night on the island, one of the ladies at our hostel had to be dropped off in Fira, and the group invited me to come along. I mean, when else was I going to get to take a nighttime car ride down the island? The four of us crammed into the tiny car and sped off. I was glad that the responsibility for maneuvering our little box on wheels around the cliff edges, skirting around cars and letting motorbikes pass, wasn’t on my shoulders. At least if we crashed or were driven off the road, I could safely plead innocence as we plummeted towards the Mediterranean Sea. Up until then, I had been careful with spending my money on food—nothing too extravagant. That night, though, we shared dishes and indulged in the specials. After dropping our friend off at her hotel, we began the drive back north. To put it simply, we almost ran out of gas but then we didn’t. We couldn’t figure out how to pump the gas but then we did. We were almost stranded late at night in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but this lonely gas station as far as we could see, but we weren’t. We got back safely, I crawled into bed, and woke up the next day. You can have grand, adventurous, seemingly momentous nights, but life, it seems, goes on.

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Berlin, Germany, Travel

Dad Jokes Made and Memories Lost

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Look, you’ve seen pictures of the East Side Gallery before. So enjoy some photos of people taking a selfie in front of it. And my little travel buddy.

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If I’ve already talked to you about Berlin, the first thing I probably said was that it was freezing. Then I hopefully admitted that we didn’t get around to visiting Museum Island — which would have been inside and, you know, away from the biting cold. It was a less of a cute nipping at the nose and more like a full-on chunk missing out of my face, hands, toes, wherever. (Like, how am I standing, since I’m pretty sure my toes have fallen off?) I lost feeling in my legs at one point. I don’t know, man, it was just cold. What I’m saying is, a lot of what we wanted to see was outside. We learned to find refuge in McDonald’s, metro stations, fancy hotels, and Vietnamese restaurants.

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Our adventures began before we even left London. Back in Stansted Airport, a young gent approached us, asking if he was at the right terminal to get to Berlin. “I hope so, because that’s where we’re going!” I dad-joked. Once we landed, eavesdropped on a German lady giving instructions to other tourists about which train to catch (only to find out that our train was being rerouted) it turned out the guy was going to the same hostel as we were, so he decided we should stick together. He proceeded to ask permission to guess my age. When I told him that no, I wasn’t seventeen nor sixteen, and that I was in fact twenty-two his eyes went wide. “What? No!” I assured him I was, explaining half-heartedly that I only look young because I’m part Asian. I didn’t bother mentioning that he should be able to understand this blessing/curse, since he’s full Asian. He also asked something about why my English was so good and why my accent was so strong. I explained that I was from Canada, where we speak English, and that maybe he was used to a British accent, rather than a North American one. He didn’t seem to believe me. We parted ways soon after reaching the hostel.

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Asha and I spent every night at a Christmas market, finding out that the curry in currywurst is mixed with ketchup and is therefore not totally my jam. Turns out the wurst part was actually the best part.

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Two things that are apparently a big deal in Berlin: flea markets and photo booths. We passed fotoautomat after fotoautomat, figuring we’d settle on one when the time was right. On our last night we set out in search of our final Christmas market and our long-awaited photos. We found both, plunked a few euros into the fotoautomat and took a series of surely charming snapshots. The cuteness! The frivolity! How utterly darling we must be! We waited patiently for our slip of photos to pop out, chuckling at the drôle, dorky poses we had made. We waited and waited, less patiently than before. Finally, someone took pity on us and explained that the machine was out of order, and if we wanted our money back we could call the phone number on the machine. We walked away. What we wanted back wasn’t our money. What we wanted was a tangible memory that perfectly captured our carefree ways, embodied by our heavily thought-out poses that took longer to conjure up than the actual photo-taking process. How could a German photo booth company replace that?

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One day I’ll go back to Berlin. We really only had two days, and I spent half of it under the covers trying to fight off a cold. I only caught glimpses of the fascinating design and coffee scenes — both of which came together with the café/typography shop Type Hype. It had the kind of stuff I’ll copy for homemade birthday cards. We also went to KaffeeMitte (where I got a tea with ginger, lemon, and all other things to help lessen my cold symptoms) and Zeit für Brot (where they didn’t believe Asha when she said they forgot her order, but I had a perfectly lovely time).

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Unrelated note: I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but German people are really good-looking. The men, the women, probably the babies too. There’s not even a specific look, they are all just beautiful, beautiful people.

 

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