Santorini | 3. Those Who Leave Traces

In the end, it is not about the city, nor the streets. It is also not about those picturesque hills or beaches or mountains. And it is not about the local food or delicacies, traditional dances or performances. It is definitely not about the tourist attraction, nor the hidden exotic spots. And, surprisingly, it is not even about the photographs you have taken, no matter how wonderful they turned out to be.

It is always—always, about the people you meet along the way.

From my previous travelling journeys, I realized that the places I cherish the most are places with names and faces; places where stories and dreams are being shared with someone you have just met for the very first time; places where you arrive as a stranger and depart as a dear friend. It is that connection that matters. It is that warm feeling of friendship that lingers—even long after the post-journey excitement fades away. It is that kind of feeling that stays with me after I got back from visiting Karachi, Pakistan, June last year; and it is also that kind of feeling that remains as I was sitting on the plane, leaving Santorini behind.

It is about G, and our casual talk at the reception area.

About how he introduced me to his friends and showed me the best spots in town to eat, hang out, or take beautiful pictures. About how he wanted me to bring a bottle of his family’s wine back home. About how he gave me his phone number and said, “Anytime you need anything, just call. I’m available 24 hours.”

It is about AD who greeted me every morning just because I always walked past his place on my way to the bus station. It is about our small talk every day when he asked me where I would go that day and what I had seen yesterday before giving me that pleasant smile and shouted, “Have a nice day!”—while waving his hands cheerily.

It is about AP who came to my table when I dine at his place. About how he thanked me for coming and told me stories about how he went fishing in the morning and caught the now-grilled sea bass I was eating. About how he told me that the baklava I ordered for dessert was a treat from him.

It is about MS who welcomed me at his tavern and said that he remembered me (“You’re staying at G’s place!”) and sent a free Vinsanto wine to my table when I finished my meal.

It is about F who was watering his plants when I passed by his house. About how he asked, “Hello, everything’s alright?” because he thought I was lost. It is about how we chatted after I told him that I was not lost; I was just wandering around the alleyways to take pictures of people’s fences, doors, and windows.

It is about MA who shouted, “Apa kabar?” whenever I passed by her little shop after she learnt that I am from Indonesia.

It is about O, a friend of G, who gave me a crash course in Greek.

It is about the guy at the bookshop who pulled out a wooden puppet from somewhere and asked me, “Do you know Karagkiozis?”—and when I shook my head, he said that Karagkiozis is a kind of shadow play from Greece.

About how you can move the wooden puppet by pulling on the strings attached to it. “It is played behind a white screen, so people only see the shadows,” he explained, before slipping the wooden puppet into my shopping bag and said, “This is for you. A gift from Santorini!”

In the end, it is all about the people. It is always about the people.

They are the ones who make your journey memorable. They are ones who teach you something new, who enable you to see the world from a different perspective, who send subtle messages that somehow feel relevant to your life. They are the ones who shape the faces of your journeys. They stay with you throughout, because somehow—no matter how brief their kindness had brushed up on you, they have left a part of themselves in you. And whether you realize it or not, you have also left a part of yourself in them.

And that’s exactly why, no matter where you are, whether you’re heading out on a new journey or simply going back from one, you will always feel at home.

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Also in this series:

Santorini | 2. The Road Less Travelled

When travelling alone, I am the kind of person who will be spending as much time to do things I am interested in, in places I am most attracted to. It is never about the number of places I have visited or photographed, and it is definitely not about walking around with a tourist map in hand, check-marking the sites flagged as “must-seen” by others.


Travelling alone is about a journey that is taking place inside of me. It is about waking up very early or very late. About enjoying or skipping breakfast. About wandering aimlessly or looking for a particular spot. About sitting in one small patisserie—reading poetry books for 2.5 hours straight or fluttering from one art shop to another in 15 minutes. About coming back to the hotel before dark and writing in my room or going out after midnight to take a peek at the bars or having a very late dinner. It is about what I feel like doing. It is about slowing down and taking a deep breath. About stopping and being still. About following where your heart is taking you. About not being in a rush.

Santorini is the perfect place to do just that. Nobody is scurrying or honking or yelling or cutting in line. It is like seeing the world moving in slow motion, and it is such a wonderful scene to watch. You can see how people move their hands. The way the wind ruffles somebody’s skirt. The color of someone’s eyes. The freshness of the tomatoes on your salad bowl. The shapes of doors and fences and rooftops. The sound of a lizard moving lazily on the gravel path. This is a small island where everybody knows everybody. Where one is always somebody else’s childhood friend. Where people actually go to the beach or to the hills by bringing along their canvas and paints or guitar; then spend hours there, painting or strumming—just like in the movies. Where the streets and shortcuts and alleyways become amazingly familiar to you in just a day or two (“It’s really difficult to get lost here, trust me,” said G—the owner of the hotel where I stayed, when I told him that I have a very poor sense of direction. He was right).

On my first day, I tried my luck (and courage) in taking the shortcut from the hotel to the city center. Instead of following the main road, I climbed the alleyways behind the mini market, walked past people’s homes and establishments, took pictures of everything beautiful while trying to avoid stepping on the fresh donkey manures. I did well. I went out (somehow) at the right alley, just before the bus station at Fira’s city center. From that day on, I got all the courage in the world to take shortcuts and alleyways to some small villages nearby, never once got lost.

Later that day, having seen the photographs, G was surprised knowing that I had snapped a picture of his family’s old cave house. “How did you find it? It is hidden from the street…!” (well, I did take the road less travelled!). G’s father and grandfather was raised in this cave house, a traditional house—built deep into the rock face—of the locals in Santorini. At the moment, most cave houses have been sold or leased as hotels/villas.

“The cave house is empty now, and we’re planning to sell it as well,” said G.

“Must be hard to let go of such a precious family possession. It holds the family’s history,” I replied, reminded of a friend of mine who had recently sold her family’s old house.

G just shot an ‘it-is-OK’ smile.

I wandered around Fira’s city center that afternoon. The sun was shining brightly, but the wind was blowing hard and cold—enveloping me in the fresh and salty scent of the Aegean sea. Wrapped in my pink cardigan, I climbed up past the little shops selling local delicacies; Vinsanto wine and olive oil in pretty bottles, to the stretch overlooking the caldera.

{Note: The present-day crescent shape of Santorini island is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion some 3,600 years ago. This created the current geological caldera; a giant central lagoon, more or less rectangular, and measuring about 12 by 7 km, surrounded by 300 m high steep cliffs on three sides.}

I just sat there for I didn’t know how long; mesmerized by the stunning view and the fact that I was actually here, standing right in the middle of my fairy tale. How far can a dream take you? I would say, far. Really far.

———-

On these series:

Santorini | 1. The Art of Travelling Alone

Started in 2007, at least once a year, I travel alone. It doesn’t really matter how far or how close the destination is. The idea is simply to go to a foreign place, a place where you know no one, alone. It’s not that I dislike travelling with friends. I do enjoy spending summer with my best friends: shopping and partying with the girls and going poetically mellow in a remote village with the boys. But travelling alone gives a different kind of pleasure. It’s more of a journey to know who you really are, better.

Travelling alone gives you a lot of time to spend with yourself, to do things as you wish, to see things that you want, to spend more or less time in places that you find most or least interesting, to say yes or no to a stranger’s invitation for a drink without having to consult anyone, to spend your time doing nothing—or anything, for that matter. To me, it’s an opportunity to wander around, to daydream, to write, to read, to draw, to take pictures, and most importantly: to think.

The most interesting part is, when travelling alone, you have no one to accompany you but yourself. It’s a great test to see how much you like being in your own company. Do you see yourself as a good friend; someone you can feel comfortable with, or someone you can’t stand? Do you see yourself as someone you can count on to? Will yourself disappoint or fulfill you? Can you make peace with your own thoughts, worries, fears, dreams, passions?

Travelling alone also teaches you in a humble way. It makes you see things with lovingness. Deep down inside, you realize that if things go wrong somehow, you can only rely upon the kindness of fellow strangers or locals you meet along the way. This makes you see everyone around you as a good friend. You feel happy and generous in offering directions to someone who seems lost, helping those who carry a lot of stuff while trying to lift their luggage to the pavement, cleaning the table once you’ve finished eating, or running—chasing for a baby hat that’s being blown away by the wind. A pleasant smile, a short stop to chat about the places you’ve been yesterday and places you’re about to go today, a polite nod with a hello, an exchange of good-mornings, a waving of the hand, a simple thank-you note after a great meal, a farewell card, a bottle of wine as a friendly gift.

This year, I went to Santorini in Kikhlades, Greece, alone. I’ve been reading Greek mythology books since I was in elementary school, and have always been interested in the country—but Santorini drew me in when I saw it for the first time on TV and postcards as a teenager. The picturesque island looked like a distant dream, a place hidden somewhere inside a fairy tale. However, I always believe that everything—no matter how small, no matter how big, starts with the courage to dream. And until today, there’s always a place for fairy tale in this world. When you’re patient enough to hold on to it, you can have your own, too.

Just. Don’t. Let. Go.

————–

On these series:

Santorini (Prologue) | 0. The City

This afternoon, I picked up a book at a lovely bookstore hidden in the midst of Oia’s endless gravel path. It was a poetry book called “A Greek Quintet”, an anthology of poems by Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis and Gatsos. A few hours later, I found myself stranded in a small patisserie overlooking the Aegean sea, enjoying a huge cup of pistachio ice cream and the fruity-sweet Vinsanto wine. I flipped open several first few pages of the poetry book, and my eyes landed instantly on The City. If you do believe that there’s no such thing as coincidence in life, then I’d like to share this poem with you.

The City by Cavafy

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed
them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighbourhoods,
will turn grey in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things
elsewhere;
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

No matter how far one goes (or runs away for that matter), one will always meet oneself again and again and again and again.

αγάπη, H.

Rain from Hertfordshire

I got mail from Hertfordshire today! ^^

Astrid is a design student, a designer, and a talented artist. Today, I found out that she is also a talented writer.

We first crossed path via Twitter, when I featured one of her drawings, and then we connected via Facebook, started to read each others’ blog, and left messages via the comments section. I think we connected in so many ways, especially because we’re one of those old souls—who appreciate “old things” like a piece of hand-written letter, a typewriter, or an old book. Astrid’s wonderful drawings, paintings and illustrations have also drawn me to her, especially because I had just started drawing again a few weeks before we bumped into each other on the Net. So, to me, she is something like… a sign, or a tutor, probably (and of course, a very dear friend).

I sent her a small card last month, and this morning I found her mail on my working desk. Inside the summer-looking envelope, there were a bookmark with my name on it, a drawing of owls, and 3 pages of illustrated hand-written letters. I was the happiest girl on earth!

This is my favourite paragraph from her letter. So beautiful, I got teary eyes while reading it! :’)

____

RAIN

Today I’m sitting in a garden on campus, and enjoying some lovely British sunshine. There are bees buzzing around me as I sit under a cherry blossom tree in full flower, just as spring ordered. I love they way of the weather here, I all too often hear people complaining about the rain, I wish they could look past it wetting their shoes as they scurry about with their umbrellas. There are so many things worse to worry or be concerned about in life. For I love the way rain falls for days, blessing the earth as intended, and then a day like today appears and it makes all the rain worthwhile. I love to sit here and share that—I have no doubt you will agree, we are emotional beings. With rain we have our tears, with sunshine comes a silver lining. We need both.

Astrid

___

Happy Friday, lovelies, and have a wonderful weekend!