Are you ready for another run? We hope so. How does running on the gorgeous Greek island of Santorini sound?
So much for polarizing sunglasses, I think as I walk out of the cave house. They are powerless against the bright early morning Grecian sun that reflects off the the white buildings of the caldera. I think Zeus has something to do with this. Is he trying to blind me?
As I walk up the steep stairs, I stretch my calves preparing them for the run ahead. Being out at this early hour, I beat the mobs of boat people that come to Oia on buses from Fira where the cruise ships dock. The town is quiet.
I begin to run toward the “new” part of town. As I run up a few steps, I see a young blond woman out in front of a shoe shop, putting out displays at this early hour. The tourists will come soon. She needs to be ready.
I enjoy the cool air here between the buildings as the sun is not yet high enough to warm the cobblestones. But it is temporary. I run into a more open area and am again hit by the warm glow of the morning sun. Now I have panoramic views of Santorini and the surrounding islands.The Aegean Sea is a turquoise-blue, the sky cobalt with a few white clouds floating around. The caldera, all those white buildings (with just a few colors mixed in), looks as though someone has poured bleach over it. So white! It looks like a postcard, like the tourist brochures.
Santorini has been on my “must see” list for many years. I imagined it to be as beautiful as the pictures in the magazines. It has not disappointed me. I am dazzled by it. I cannot stop photographing it. I cannot stop emailing my friends and family about how fabulous it is. Every time I walk out of the cave house, my heart skips a beat: the white buildings built into the hillside; the blue domed churches; the turquoise sea; the earth-colored, rocky islands; and the orange, fiery sunsets. Being here has been like living a dream. Running here has been like living a dream within that dream.
Partway through the village I pick up some running partners. Two of the Oia street dogs join me this morning. They run in front of me, playing with each other, seemingly oblivious to me. I run past them as they stop to wrestle. I think I have lost them, but there they are again, running ahead of me. This routine keeps up for the next mile. We are a threesome, but no one really notices.
As I pass by the bakery I catch the scent of freshly baked bread and pastries. I hear the sound of Greek coming from inside as the locals pick up their bread for the day. I wonder what it would be like to live here, in such a small town and on an island. Would I miss the big grocery stores? Or would the simple life win me over?
I run briefly on the street with the cars. The dogs run in the middle of road and I worry that they will be run over, but the drivers around here are used to this. My partners get a few honks and move to the side with me, putting my mind at ease.
I am back on the pedestrian way and run up the steps. I run by a middle-aged man who gives me a thumbs up. I smile and wave to him. That’s nice of him to give me the encouragement.
A dark-haired woman is out cleaning a hotel pool. Oh, that looks inviting. I want to dive into the cool water. It’s already hot.
I get to the top of the stairs, take a few seconds to drink in the stunning view before me, then turn around and run back.
The dogs have left me. I am on my own, for now. I enter back into the heart of the village. A woman in a long skirt mops the smooth cobblestones in front of her clothing boutique. I find this amusing, yet understandable. More shops begin to open. I pass by one of the markets where I have bought fruit and veg. My mouth waters as I see the apricots. I’m beginning to get hungry. Mmmm, breakfast of apricots and Greek yogurt. It’s been my staple for the past few days. Simple, yet tasty.
I turn the corner at Sunset Point and begin running to the west. It’s a treat to see this area with very few people. It is so busy at sundown. But the sunsets are gorgeous – vibrant and colorful – and worth the crowds.
For now though, it is quiet on this stretch of the pedestrian path. There is only the sound of the breeze in my ears.
Another one of the street dogs joins me. Where did he come from? He keeps a steady pace in front of me, occasionally stopping and looking at me to make sure I am still behind him. I think of what Betty, a lady who works in one of the shops, told me about the street dogs. They live on the streets, but are taken care of by the people who live and work in Oia. Many business owners put bowls of water out in front of their stores. There are feeders for food where the dogs go to eat. They are in good health, clean and all have collars and names. So, while they are street dogs, they aren’t really strays.
I come to the end of the village where the pool with the lounge is. I can’t wait to be sitting in one of those sun loungers later, soaking up the Grecian sun and cooling off in the water. Soon enough.
Through the parking lot, then to the road that leads down to the sea. It will be a tough run up, but I don’t care. Down I go, me and the dog. Does he venture out of town this far very often? Is he enjoying the scenery? I am. It almost doesn’t look real. It’s that magnificent.
There are just a few buildings here amongst the brown grass. I see a sign for a hotel that sits down a gravel road. A car passes me, heading up the hill. I get a curious look from the driver. Sometimes I think the locals think I am crazy. Sometimes I think I am too.
I run toward the sign for the beach, planning to go just as far as the parking area. When I reach the lot, I stop for a moment and look to the sea. It is such a beautiful color, a turquoise-blue. One of my favorite colors. I take a deep breath, inhaling the salty air. Peace. The sea always brings me peace.
Back to reality – time to run uphill.
My running partner is gone, nowhere to be found. I am alone, trudging up the winding road. Breathing hard, I focus on the next destination of my journey, Venice. I’m looking forward to seeing this city on the water. I dream of Italian wine and gelato as I run up the road.
Sweat pours off of me, but I make it to the top, feeling a sense of accomplishment as I always do when I run up a long hill.
I pass the pool again, longing to jump into the cool, refreshing water. The pedestrian way is busier now, and I see the first of the boat people as I turn the corner where Sunset Point is. I am almost back, thankfully. The crowds of tourists are annoying. They’re loud and impossible to walk through, let alone run.
As I return to the steps that lead down to my cave house, I slow down to walk.
I reach my cave house, grab some water and sit out on my terrace. The “runner’s high” has kicked in; I am intoxicated. As I gaze out to the Aegean and the islands, I think of Zeus and Poseidon, the Greek gods of the sky and the sea. I raise my glass of water to them, saluting them on a job well done. Santorini is everything I dreamed it would be, and so much more.