The first travel magazine I remember reading was when I was around 15 years old. Long before I’d dreamed of being a photographer, the cover caught my eye and the photos inside were seared into my memory for life. They were of Santorini; purple-tinged images of quaint, white cave houses and tiny alleyways perched on a cliffside. I thought, “I must go here one day.”
A decade later, I started traveling to Europe, but by then, other locations had jumped in the queue of “Places to go” and Santorini was knocked back several spots. The funny thing about life is that experience sort of changes everything. By the time I finally made it to Greece, I’d already been to one of the most beautiful places on earth the year before… so it had to compete with Positano and the Amalfi coast, which is next to impossible in my book! Is this to say Santorini isn’t charming and lovely? Not at all. It is absolutely photogenic… in places.
We rented a cave house in the village of Oia and after touring the entire island, I can’t imagine staying anywhere else. Oia is the depiction of Santorini that everyone knows and loves. Sadly, it’s not the most accurate representation of the rest of the island. Every afternoon and evening, the appeal wore off as cruise ships let loose countless groups of obnoxious tourists with cameras, numbered signs and selfie-sticks. Hundreds of people flooded and congregated the quaint alleyways vying for the best photos until the sun went down. It made me embarrassed to be seen with a camera.
I still managed to find my repose. Thanks to jet lag and sick children, I was awake more than asleep. While everyone else slept, I was up early, coffee in hand, climbing to the terrace above to watch the sun rise over the sea and slowly illuminate the houses on the hillside. After coffee, I ran and climbed the myriad of dodgy steps and trails that laced along the cliff through the old pedestrian houses. The only other living things I came in contact with were stray dogs and cats, as most tourists stayed on the main paths above. I found peace in these winding passageways throughout the day and they will forever be my favorite part of Santorini. Although the rest of the island wasn’t quite what I expected, I was able to experience that magazine cover in person — in the wee hours of the morn, lavender-lit and tranquil, just as I’d imagined it would be.