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Living on Santorini

Living on Santorini, Santorini

My Life on Santorini

My life on Santorini started with the arrival on the world’s infamous Santorini airport most people have a hate relationship with (there’s no love). I had no idea how long I was going to stay. I didn’t have a return ticket. All I had was a hope I’ll be able to find an apartment and make this my home. But more on that later. Stepping out of that plane felt much weirder than the first time I came to this island. Perhaps it was because this time, I was staying for a much longer time. Or maybe it was because I didn’t have a decent sleep for about 48 hours because I stupidly decided to spend the night at the airport.

I was greeted by my landlady’s husband. He was shy, didn’t say much, but left me babbling away about how excited I was to come to the island. It was late February and we were driving along the bumpy streets of the island, passing by the occasional donkeys, with the ocean’s view always following us in the distance. My heart was buzzing – I just moved to Santorini.

My life on Santorini

“Καλώς Ορίσατε!” My landlady greeted me at the door of her hotel, Sweet Home. It’s located in Karterados, in the back street, but just a 10-minute walk from the main town, Fira. Karterados is a local place – although it’s full of hotels, it’s a town that’s usually reserved by travelers who know how to find secret gems. It’s reserved for those who find the luxury of Oia a bit too much, and the bustling noise of Fira too overwhelming. Karterados, with its local atmosphere, terrible traffic, and the best bakery on the island, is a perfection you’ll miss out on if you decide to visit this island at the last minute. As a bonus point, it’s pretty cheap – my beautiful studio was available for €18 per night.

The studio itself was a typical living space you’d get on Santorini. Stone walls, a double and a single bed, a wardrobe, a desk, small kitchenette, and a bathroom. All basic utilities were available, and the internet would work if I sat at a certain spot or worked from outside. That’s all I really needed.

The first few days were still a blur of adjustments. From dealing with Greek food (which I love, but it took a while before my stomach was able to handle such heavy food), to the brand new language, and the fact that this will be my home for 3 months. It took a while, but the Greek life came to me very naturally.

My life on Santorini

I’d be in Fira by 10AM every single morning. The beauty of Santorini in February is that the entire island is eerily quiet and only the best of the best are open for business. You won’t find any fancy restaurants or anyone who is able to earn enough money over the course of 4 summer months. Instead, you’ll find businesses by real locals, who can’t help but be open almost all year round because that’s their main source of income. And those are the businesses I appreciated the most.

One of my almost daily stops was Lucky’s – a gyros shop, located just above Fira’s bus stop, right in front of the square. The place has some of the best and arguably the cheapest gyros in town, and the owner of the shop knows it. Lucky is one of those people you can’t help but strike a conversation with, despite his slightly irritating flirty voice, and the fact he’s hardly listening to a word you say. “I finish at 12, I’d love to see you after dark,” would usually never make me come back to a place, but his food is so good he’s totally allowed to use terrible pickup lines (he never saw me after dark). 

My life on Santorini

Another all-year-rounder on the menu is the Solo Gelato, where I usually got some ice cream and a coffee to go before I headed back to the apartment.

And that’s what I did all this time. Having the opportunity to see the island prepare for the summer season has been incredibly eye-opening and rewarding. From chefs and bartenders, who told me they never get a day off during the summer, to hotel owners who got negative reviews over salty water coming from the taps (totally normal on the entire island). I got to experience something most can’t.

The truth is, the life on the island isn’t at all idyllic. Even Oia hotel owners get frustrated with tourists who have no respect for the buildings and climb on rooftops to take a picture of a sunset. Those rooftops took a whole week to paint, and a lot longer to build. Apartments are hard to come by, and sometimes even Santorini’s teachers are forced to camp instead of being able to rent their own flat. I overheard many Greeks complaining about Santorini’s housing situation, and many are waiting for the tax authorities to tackle the illegal hotels and make room for regular long-term housing. Will it happen? Probably not, this is Greece after all. 

My life on Santorini

Santorini has a distinctive smell of fresh paint in April. Most hotel owners will arrive at the island by now, even though the actual tourist season doesn’t begin until May. May on the island is known as the rainy season, and the people are always on a time limit when it comes to painting their houses and making them look presentable. Photography is a big way Santorini is marketed as the best place on Earth. Why do they paint every year? Because their winters are so rough, the heavenly blue you see gets chipped off very easily. The bright blue that Santorini is known for only comes alive during the summer.

During April, the island starts to change. It’s no longer peacefully quiet – things are in full swing. There’s noise, and there are locals greeting each other and getting excited about another summer season. Donkeys, who really shouldn’t be doing such work, carry heavy objects through the square and occasionally block your way on the stairs. Their heavy objects will later be replaced by people. It’s a neverending job in terrible heat that only ends with a toss over a cliff, or at the Santorini animal shelter. To hear these stories, you need to come to Santorini during the offseason, when people are much more relaxed and willing to open up about their own experiences on the island. 

My life on Santorini

Living on Santorini during the offseason gives a completely different vibe to the island. Everything is a lot more peaceful, sunsets are a lot more magical, and beaches are practically empty. The closest beach to my hotel was Karterados beach, about a 40-minute walk away. I’d usually rent a bike and spent some time on the empty beach, where the sound of the waves was all you could hear. The weather was just good enough to walk around barefoot and occasionally dip your feet in the ocean, but that’s all I really needed.

I admire people who stay on the island all year round. It’s rare, and not even the die-hard Santorini lovers go for this option. People come to this island for money. Luxury. The sunset side of the island. Many tourists, especially those who only come for 2 days and spend all their time in Oia, don’t get to experience the true life on the island. If they would, perhaps they’d stop spending money at luxury hotels that are only open during the summer season, and instead appreciate business owners like my landlady, who has her hotel open all year round, but rarely makes her money’s worth during the slow months.

My life on Santorini

Santorini left me with mixed feelings. Although I am sure I will come back and permanently settle on the island, it opened my eyes to a lot of problems you don’t get to see as a tourist. It was a magical experience I won’t soon forget, but I want to make sure that the story of the off-season Santorini life gets heard.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

How long should you stay on santorini?
Living on Santorini, Santorini

How Long Should You Stay on Santorini?

I’m writing this solely because it really irks me when people tell me they are going to go  island hopping and stay on Santorini 1-2 day max. Huh? How can you possibly get the full Santorini experience in just a weekend? Not to mention you’ll find many things closed on a Sunday, including restaurants and supermarkets. In all honesty, you’d be throwing away your money – take it from someone who stayed on Santorini for almost 4 months and would do it again in a heartbeat. If you do it, I hope you realize your mind will keep on coming back to this island until it forces you to come back – it’s what happened to me.

How long should you stay on santorini?

So how long should you stay on Santorini?

It depends when you’re visiting. I can imagine why people choose short-term stays during the summer season. It’s crowded AF. Seriously. I’ve never been on the island during the summer season and I stopped going to Oia after April because the crowds ruined the fun. But for a true Santorini experience, I recommend a week. Do a tour, and do a couple of them. Sit down in a restaurant and talk to the locals. Dip your toes in the ocean, go hiking from Fira to Oia, rent a mountain bike, make a challenge to visit every single beach restaurant on the island, seeing the sunset from many different angles, go visit the Santorini animal shelter (and adopt a Santorini puppy while you’re at it!), eat true authentic Santorini tomatoes, visit the hidden beaches on the other side, watch a movie in the open cinema… can you really do all that in a weekend?

How long should you stay on santorini?

Staying on Santorini for a longer time (and during the off season) allowed me to support businesses that normally don’t get any traffic until about May. I learned a lot about Santorini locals and how hard they work to make your summer magical (without a day off for the entire summer and in terrible heat, mind you).

How long should you stay on santorini?

Obviously, this is your decision, but if you ever stumble upon this article, you should really consider giving this island a chance for longer than just 2 days. Trust me, it’s totally worth learning to not flush the toilet paper and drinking only from bottled water.

There’s more to this island than sunsets. It’s the people that bring you the real magic. 🙂

How long should you stay on santorini?

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All roads lead to Santorini
Living on Santorini, Santorini

All Roads Lead to Santorini

Life has a goddamn weird sense of humor.

A few years ago, when I first visited this beautiful island, I stumbled upon this quirky bookshop called Atlantis Books – I fell in love with the front door quote, the fairytale-like atmosphere, the funny messages, and the loft bed that looked like a perfect place to chill with a favorite book. I also spent a lot of time in a picture-perfect hippy bar, one of the few on the island that served vegan food. And when I say it was perfect, I mean it, it was perfect. I had a quite a famous Tumblr blog back then and their manifesto picture became quite popular (and 1k pins on Pinterest :O). I was so in love with the vibe of the place, I knew I was going to come back.

Fast forward two years. It was my first year of living in Madrid and I just left my au pair family to start my new job. I settle into my wonderful room in a flat right opposite the Royal Palace, and one day, stumble into this quirky shop that had a very cosy, fairytale-like atmosphere. It seemed too good to be true, so I asked about the similarities – turns out, the owners also own Atlantis Books on Santorini.

Fast forward to a couple of more years, now living on the island. I’ve been relentlessly looking for volunteering opportunities for the last 5 years with no luck. More of a habit than an actual search, I did my usual ‘volunteer on Santorini’ check a few weeks ago – the search usually includes Workaway.

Lo and behold, guess where a volunteering opportunity popped up.

On this very island.

And guess where?

At the hippy bar I loved so much, which now extended into a hippy hostel. 

Life is weird. But if there’s one thing I learned it’s that all roads lead to Santorini.

All roads lead to Santorini

 

3 Things I Deeply Hate About Santorini
Living on Santorini, Santorini, Where I've Been

3 Things I Deeply Hate About Santorini

And before someone says “well if you don’t like it, go somewhere else” – meh. I consider Santorini the most magical place on Earth, but just like Disneyland, ever magical place has its problems. The Greek are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, so I’m guessing the roots of these issues lie somewhere else. It’s something you don’t notice unless you stay here for more than just a few days. And even though I constantly rave about this island, there are a few things about Santorini I absolutely hate (just 3, hope that makes you feel better).

No recycling.

Alright, here’s the thing. Considering you can’t drink the Santorini tap water (unless you like desalinated water) and need to buy plenty of water bottles for your everyday life, I’m surprised the island has no recycling system. Not to mention the amount of toilet paper we use because we can’t flush anything down the toilet (yup). Grocery stores automatically give you bags and they are FREE (I’ve been living in Spain and London for far too long). I’ve yet to see a recycling system to minimize any environmental issues the island could face (or is facing). I know, I know, it’s an island after all. But there needs to be a solution for this, right?

3 Things I Deeply Hate About Santorini

Very little respect for animals.

Although there are cats, dogs and donkeys everywhere on this island and there are many loving interactions, I’ve seen donkey handlers kick donkeys to get them to go in the right direction. Hundreds of pets get abandoned after seasonal owners return to Athens to escape the winter (many locals leave Santorini in October and return in February or March). Santorini’s animal shelter has more than 100 dogs waiting to be adopted. Donkeys have to walk on horrible cobblestone stairs and carry enormous amounts of weight under the hot Santorini sun. And when they’re unable to do their job, there’s a good chance they will get abandoned or killed. Yep. 

3 Things I Deeply Hate About Santorini

The summer season.

I’m not a huge fan of the summer season. The thought of having to reserve your spot in Oia 3 hours before the sunset is just crazy. The way buses get too full, the way accommodation is literally sold out months before (but places are completely empty Jan – April and October – December), you need to reserve your restaurant table,… everything needs to be planned waaay in advance, or you’ll be left with nothing. Santorini summers are magical in many other ways, but crowd control isn’t one of them. The place below is FULL of people during the summer season! 

3 Things I Deeply Hate About Santorini

Ah, Santorini. You’ve stolen my heart, but….