Santorini (Epilogue) | 5. The Art of Living a Life without Regret

I know that I’ve been postponing this for quite some time. A part of myself refused to say an official ‘goodbye’ to Santorini—thus, I found it difficult to actually sit down in front of my computer and write this last part; the epilogue. Finally, I’m writing this from Almaty, Kazakhstan, somewhere in the midst of the mysterious charm of Central Asia. An encounter with someone here a few days ago reminded me of a conversation I had with G inside the car on my last day in Santorini, when he drove me to the airport.

It’s all about living a life without regret. A life worth celebrating.

“I love my job, I love what I do. I get to talk and meet with a lot of interesting people,” said G that cloudy morning. “But I don’t like money. Really, I hate money. That’s why I spend it. I travel around the world and spend loads of money. I even invite my friends to come along with me. Then I go back here, without money, and start working again. But it’s been an amazing life. You know, if I should die today, I have no regret. The business is running well, I know that my family will be alright without me. My father, my mother, they are doing fine. And I am happy, Hanny. If I die today, I will die happily. I will die a happy man.”

The following week, I received a reply from AP about the thank-you note I’ve written for the great meal and the great service I’ve experienced in his tavern. “Honey, I’m really happy because you’re the proof of all the hard work and efforts we make everyday to be everything-perfect! We see our customers as friends first,” wrote AP. “We’re learning, from generation to generation, to give our best. To be hospitable. And to do everything with love. One baklava is waiting for you, so come again as soon as possible!”

And what about those guys who came up with the lovely Atlantis Books in Oia? If you’ve read their stories in my previous post, you’ll see that it all started with nothing but love and passion.

If there’s any secret ingredient to live a life without regret, that must be it. Love. To do things that you love, and to do things that you might not love that much with a lot of love. It’s about seeing people that you love happy and content. It’s about radiating the love inside of you, which in turn will make people around you feel accepted and comfortable. You do not judge. You do not compare. You do not count. You have no fixed plans. You seize the day and grab the opportunity. You never wish that you said ‘hello’ because you always do. You connect. You smile. You laugh. You flow. You love. You live.

Should you have the opportunity to visit Santorini one day, please come and meet these gorgeous souls who understand the art of living a life without regret:

  • George Katsipis | Villa Evgenia Hotel in Fira, Santorini. Ranked #1 of 25 specialty lodging in Fira by TripAdvisor (that’s what love can do). If you’re at the reception area, look for an owl postcard on the customer’s board: that’s mine!
  • Alexandros Passaris | Petros Fish Tavern in Oia, Santorini. Enjoy the tasty grilled fish while admiring the sunset view by the ocean.
  • Oliver, Craig, Tim, Maria and Chris | Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini.


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Santorini | 4. Romance in a Bookshop

Wherever I go, I always find myself being drawn by tiny old-looking bookshop. Of course, gigantic bookstores like Kinokuniya or Taipei’s 7-storey high Eslite are amazing and jaw-dropping. But there’s always something romantic about a small bookshop. You can sense this personal touch, you can more or less gauge the characteristics of the owner. All the things he/she sell is a reflection of who he/she is: the title of the books, the way the bookshop is decorated, the shelving system, the items being displayed behind the window, the way he/she greets people… each and every little details convey a story.

Santorini holds two precious little bookshop I adore so much. The hidden jewel (just like what its name suggest), Atlantis Books in Oia and Books & Style in Fira—not far from the bus station (the owner of the bookshop is the one who gave me Karagkiozis wooden puppet as a gift, and I gave him a bottle of Vinsanto as a parting gift before I left).

Atlantis Books is a true hidden treasure. You could miss it easily as you walked by those colorful tiny shops in Oia’s alleyways. But I always think that I’m a bookshop owner in my past life. Books are calling me. Bookshops are my sanctuary. And that’s how I found Atlantis Books that windy afternoon, climbed down the stairs to their magical blue door, and as I stepped in, I realized: heaven must look like this.

When it comes to books and reading, I love it the traditional way. Looking at those crumpled cover, caressing the flipped pages, reading the notes written on the side of the page with a pencil, laughing at the coffee stains, smelling the damp paper—vintage books get me high! And Atlantis Books is heaven because they have these vintage collections and some classic’s first editions. True gem.

The story behind this bookshop—as appear in their official site, is even more romantic:

“In the spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on the island of Santorini. The land inspired them and there was no bookshop, so they drank some wine and decided to open one. Oliver named it Atlantis Books and the two laughed about how their children would run it someday. In England, Tim took Craig for a walk along the Sussex coast. Craig told Tim about the bookshop and Would he like to build it. Tim said Great!

For a year the idea percolated as Craig and Oliver went about graduating from university. Around his thesis deadline Craig called Chris and talked about the bookshop. Chris said Can I come?

An email from Jenny went like this: Maria and Craig, I’m introducing you both. Maria, Craig’s going to Paris in December and thence to Santorini. Craig, Maria is from Cyprus and is English Literature & bookshop employee extraordinaire. Love you both, J.

The four boys and Maria devoted six months to saving money, finding books, settling debts, writing and reading and thinking. Tim borrowed a van named Danny. Will offered to design a website and a wave logo and said Could I come along.

New Year’s Morn, Quinn packed Danny, waved us off and we ploughed across the continent and landed in Oia. We found an empty building facing the sunset, drank some whiskey and signed a lease. We found a dog and cat, opened a bank account, applied for a business license, found some friends, built the shelves, landed a boat on the terrace and filled the place with books. Jenny came in April and painted everything blue.

Atlantis Books opened in the spring of 2004 and lived below the castle for one year. In the winter of 2005  we moved into the center of town and settled nicely into the community. We’ve had food festivals and film festivals, writers reading on the terrace, and a host of cats and dogs.

The bookshop feels like home now and we’re still laughing about how our children will run it someday. As Will says, it’s as easy as that. As you. As that.”

Books & Style is nostalgic in its own humble way. It reminds me of the little bookshops in my hometown where my parents used to take me. Apart from some lovely postcards, they have children’s corner (where I found the Greek edition of The Little Prince to complete my friend’s The-Little-Prince-book collection), wooden souvenirs, as well as recipe books. But what I love the most is the watercolour paintings and the vintage-looking tin cans/boxes. They are so beautiful!

I’m still holding on to this all-time dream: to open up a small bookshop with a small cafe inside it (and I always believe that I’ll meet my soul-mate in a bookshop!). Wish me luck!


More in this series:

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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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.


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