Alarms set to pre-crack-o-dawn – 2:30am to be exact, we headed to bed around 11:30pm not looking forward to the three hours of anxious sleep before waking up again. Our flight was departing Tel-Aviv airport at 7am bound for Santorini in the Greek islands. We had to get up so early to make the 45-minute drive to Tel-Aviv to check in three hours before our flight.
We arrived to the very busy Ben Gurion airport, which was alive with people heading to Europe. After passing our initial security inquisition, we lined up for the check-in area. There are no formal lines or barriers so it is really potluck which line you choose and whether it will be a quick or slow line. We seemed to be doing ok on that morning, and got the check-in desk with ease and with only being bumped by the trolley behind us twice.
We had with us three large suitcases due to our extended stay, so we had purchased additional luggage. We had 60kg to play with. What we didn’t bargain for was that each piece could only be a maximum of 23kg. As it stood, we had one suitcase well over 23kg, one dangerously close and one that was a bit less, but was already packed to the brim. Here begun our final Tetris game in Israel. We had to shuffle out of the line, in full view of the queues of nosy people wondering what was the problem. We found a spare area and begun to open our luggage to the world, or so it felt. Transferring and clothes and shuffling items between suitcases… running to weigh them to see if we had met the requirements and then back again to continue shuffling and transferring. Eventually we hit the right combination and were able to check-in. We were greeted with angry mumblings from people as the check-in staff let us in jump the lines after our frantic re-pack episode.
We walked through customs where the sleepy officer stamped our passports and entered into the main hall. It was filled with people and we could hardly find a seat. I thought about how this place was buzzing with people and compared it to Canberra airport. Even in peak hour, Canberra airport is like a library – very quiet. Though I suppose that’s because most Canberrans are comfortably sipping a cappuccino in the Qantas Club. We had lounge access, but last time we visited the Dan lounge in Tel Aviv airport it was pretty average, packed with people, lacking food (most of which had been spilt on the ground) and impossible to get a seat. We agreed it was just as well to sit outside.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, we were aboard our Aegean Air flight to Santorini via Athens with one final challenge ahead of us. Due to security requirements, our luggage could not be checked all the way to Santorini. We would have to collect it in Athens, and re-check it before our next flight. The stopover was one hour. We wondered whether there would be enough time to get off the plane, get through customs, wait at the carousel for our luggage, check-in our bags, get through security again and find our gate. It was on, amazing race style.
Our plane was slightly delayed which added to our woes. I became nervous and anxious as we queued for customs and border control. Fortunately, with all my nerves I didn’t attract any attention for being a suspect character. Our boarding time was 10:00am and it was already 9:30 without passing border control. After we made it through this hurdle, we had to join the hustle and bustle around the luggage carousel to get our bags. As luck would have it, our bags were some of the last to roll out on the conveyor belt. Next, was our bag drop/check-in. By this time it was about 9:50am. We joined the queue, which thankfully was not too long and arrived at the check-in desk. “You are running late,” said the girl at the desk. “We know” I sighed. She laughed and handed us our boarding passes and advised us to “run to gate B2.” So we did.
After making it through the security screening and 10:02, we rushed to the gate where we found…. Everyone sitting down waiting. Boarding had not yet begun. Nor did it begin for another 15 minutes. We met our challenge and flopped onto the chairs, tired.
I slept through most of our flight which was blissful. We had by this time, already been up for nearly 8 hours and it was only 10:30am. We arrived in the tiny Santorini airport at around 11:30am expecting to be greeted by a driver from our hotel. This did not occur. So we joined the taxi queue with hordes of other tourists arriving. It wasn’t long before we were winding our way up the cliffy hills of Santorini to Firostefani where we were staying.
First impressions, I must say, I wasn’t too impressed. What I saw was arid, dry cliffs, with houses sporadically dotted in the cliffs, not the beautiful clean white buildings with bright blue domes as I had imagined and was looking forward to.
Higher we climbed into the hills, passing several motorbikes and quad bikes meandering up the hill. “Here you are” said the cab driver. He helped us unload our masses of luggage which he had secured to the roof of the cab with just a single rope. We took a few steps towards our hotel and there it was. The gorgeous views with crisp white buildings, the glistening sea, and crystal clear swimming pools and of course, the blue domes dotted throughout. It was a gorgeous sight. “Kimberley, you have arrived,” I thought to myself.
We lugged our suitcases down the stairs to the reception of the Blue Dolphin Hotel. Our room was not ready so we walked into Fira – the main town on the island. It had winding cobble stone paths that meandered between buildings and had stunning views out to the sea. We booked a sailing trip with an enthusiastic tour host and enjoyed some lunch before crashing for a nap back at our hotel. Bliss.
After a good few hours of sleep, we awoke in time for the sunset. We strolled into Fira looking for the best spot to view the sunset. Eventually we came across a wine bar with an open, sweeping terrace. We ordered a glass of Assytirko (the local drop) and some snacks and settled back in to watch the sunset. It was beautiful and some of our fellow patrons even applauded as the last rays disappeared behind the horizon. We sat there for a little while longer soaking up the atmosphere. We were not hungry yet so decided to take a little bar hop through Fira.
Our next pit stop was called Lava. It was a high up terrace bar with opulent lounges and stone tables right on the edge of the terrace overlooking the magnificent view. It was like something out of a movie. We sat on the terrace, reclining as I sipped a wine and my partner enjoyed a beer. It was a lifestyle I realised could suit me way too easily.
We visited a few more revelling bars before enjoying a pita with souvlaki for dinner. It had a been a relaxing an enjoyable first day in Santorini.