A few years ago, while holidaying in the Greek Islands, I received some sound travel advice – a kindness I’ve never forgotten – from a charming Italian called Giovanni. It was at the end of a month long stay in Mykonos and I was planning a brief visit to the Island of Santorini before coming home to Brisbane.
It had been a glorious summer holiday, with long days spent lazing in the sun, swimming in the startlingly clear, cobalt blue waters of the Aegean Sea, and enjoying languorously protracted lunches of fresh seafood, washed down with a locally produced white wine – it’s dry, slightly astringent flavour an invigorating surprise on the tongue not unlike when the sea connects with skin already tingling from sunburn.
It was at one of these lunches that Giovanni turned to me and said, “Antonio, you mustn’t fly into Santorini. On your first visit, you must always arrive by sea. Flying is so boring, so ordinarie,” his attractive Italian accent lending a heightened glamour to the opinion.
Raising a glass of wine, he smiles, his teeth strikingly white against the deep tan of his complexion, “You will see how magical it is sailing into the great Caldera. Come with us on my boat. There is room for you.”
I demur eloquently. After all, our acquaintance at best, can only be described as succinct in its tenure; my remonstrations, more a nod to good manners than any authentic desire not to be part of Giovanni’s coterie of circumnavigators. Giovanni waves aside my protestations and it is settled: I am to meet them on the morrow at the village port of Tourlos.
Our glasses chink in celebration, I smile, perhaps in acknowledgment of Giovanni’s undoubted charm and generosity but even more for his suggestion that I should sail and not fly to Santorini. Any alternative to flying is always welcome.
And so it came to pass, the next day in the indigo light of early dawn, I along with five other guests find ourselves boarding Giovanni’s gleaming white cruiser the “Belle Helene”.
In the luxuriously appointed main cabin, breakfast was being served, hot coffee, pastries, fresh fruit and greek yogurt. Champagne was available for those confident their sea legs would stand them in good stead even with the warning of choppy seas ahead.
The sun was still low on the horizon when the “Belle Helene” broke free from the picturesque port of Mykonos. Leaving behind the gleaming white adobe buildings and its tranquil waters the cruiser’s elegant prow turns toward the rolling swell of open seas.
The cruiser, inspite of buffeting winds and contrary seas, gave smooth passage and only those voyageurs who braved the bow deck were made aware of the choppy conditions, while inside the luxurious cabin it remained cosseted and calm.
Lunchtime found the party still in high spirits and ready to swim in the sheltered waters of the pretty bay of Paros.
We had made good time and if Giovanni’s prediction that the winds would die down proved correct, we would enter the Caldera of Santorini by late afternoon . “Plenty of time to scale the towering walls of the old volcano and watch the sun sink into the sea,” says Giovanni.
Santorini is a large crescent shaped Island. It, along with the smaller islands of Therasia and Nea Kameni, are all that remains of a once much larger land mass. These islands form the rim of an ancient volcano.
The wind has abated just as Giovanni predicted and the sea is now glassy in it’s stillness. A lethargy has taken hold of the party, the result of too much sun and over exertion in the bay of Paros.
Giovanni announces we are close to entering the vast lagoon of the caldera. A suppressed excitement invigorates the group and we gather on deck for better viewing.
The air is eerily still and suddenly a diaphanous mist begins to appear almost as if rising from the sea itself. And as we move steadily through the water, the fog gains such a viscosity as to render visibility less than a few meters.
Giovanni assures me this phenomenon is not unusual at this time of year and that the mist would lift almost as fast as it descended.
I still feel a degree of disquiet for we are in the world of ancient Gods. Gods that take a mischievous delight in playing with the lives of mere mortals. There is something about Greek Islands that causes you to believe Poseidon, the God of the sea, is always close by.
A zephyr like breeze starts to stir the thin fabric of my shirt. It slowly builds momentum and the mist begins to move and shift.
The breeze grows more determined and with increasing precipitancy, the mist begins to shred and disappear like wraiths into the atmosphere.
Suddenly, there surrounding us, rising majestically out of the cobalt blue waters of the caldera, are the towering basalt cliffs of Santorini. And perched atop these monumental edifices looking like snow on a mountain top are the towns of Oia and Thira.
It is breathtakingly beautiful and I’m convinced, as has often been suggested, this Island could well be the birthplace of the legendary magical city Atlantis.
Giovanni comes to stand beside me, giving me a glass of champagne he says, “What do you think? Is it not magnifico?” I nod my head in complete agreement. “ You know Giovanni, you were right, arriving by sea is magical. To have arrived by airplane, would have been just ordinarie !
We raise our glasses. “Salute Antonio.” “Cheers Giovanni.”
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