Tuesday, May 19, 2009

7 Perfect Hours

So you've already heard me gripe about the first 2 days in Santorini and I promise not to aggravate you by whining about it again. Okay, I will whine about what happened to my hair. Hair+Humidity=Jacked.

Instead, I will tell you about the 7 perfect hours we had in Santorini until we caught the ferry to Crete.

I didn't really know what I'd been missing, but when we woke to sun and clear skies, I skipped over to the front door, flung the door open and whoa.

Okay, so that's what all the fuss is about. I get it now.

We stayed at a charming boutique hotel in the town of Imerovigli called the Astra Apartments and Suites. Imerovigli is about a 25 minute walk from the main town of Fira, and we loved staying a little bit away from the crowded main area. Well, we loved it on the day it wasn't rainy and cold...I do recall cursing our choice to stay in Imerovigli a time or two when drenched, chattering and cantankerous.

But truly, I recommend it. Imerovigli is actually on the most scenic part of the caldera, so the views cannot get any better.

You won't really have to deal with the hordes of blue-haired ladies who ransack Fira every afternoon when the cruise ships dock, either. BIG bonus. You don't have to deal with donkey scat either, unless you decide to walk to Fira, which is your choice. And if you're not up for a walk to Fira, the town of Firostefani is only a 10 minute walk away and they have some great restaurants.

Plus, the nice folks at the Astra include breakfast every day in the room rate. And it's a serious breakfast. You get to pick your type of omelet and it arrives hot. There's delicious, thick, Greek yogurt and fruit and granola. Meat and cheese platters, tomatoes and cucumbers. Yeah. And you get to eat it on your little front patio facing the caldera and just gawk at the amazing beauty in front of you.

We checked out of the hotel, left our bags in the lobby and set out for Fira. We had some trinkets and souveniers to purchase, and some little Gremlins were waiting anxiously in Houston to see what spoils would arrive. There are so many charming little shops in Fira and we spent a delightful hour or so there...until the attack of the Blue-Haired Cruisers. Dear God, they came in droves, pushing and shoving and sweating.

"We have to get the Hell out of here," I told hubby. So we hopped the bus to Oia, which is on the other side of the island. Oia is the other "big" city on Santorini and is the fishing hub. And directly underneath Oia is the Bay of Ammoudi, where the kind people at Astra Apartments insisted we stop for a fresh fish lunch.

To get to the Bay, and the tiny smattering of tavernas that sit right next to the shore, you need to take a path from Oia, which is 250 steps down. No, I didn't count them, I am not 'that' anal. They actually have numbers on them. Or you could do what smart folks do and rent a moped or take a cab.

I take it that you've already gathered that we aren't smart. In fact, we are so not smart that we couldn't even find the staircase to the Bay. We took the asphalt road instead and were unsure if we were even on the right road because, of course, there was no signage to be found anywhere. Mopeds whizzed past us and I wondered how long this road was, exactly.

Kinda long. As always, hubby and I took the long way. But we did eventually make it there and had built up an appetite. We walked to the end of the dock and entered the recommended taverna called Dimitri's "Ammoundi" Taverna. As we were waiting for a table, several fishermen reeled their boats in and slapped their haul onto the stones--hey, I thought, it's lunch!

We got a bottle of that famous Santorini wine and I asked our waitress what fish she recommended. "Come on back in the kitchen and take a look," she said.

How cool is that? I walked with her into the kitchen and there sat some really fresh, fat fish on ice in the cooler. It was hard to choose because they all were so gorgeous. You may think it's odd to call a heap of dead fish gorgeous, but believe me, they were.

I begged our waitress to help me choose. Turns out, the "waitress" is the wife of Dimitri, the owner. Her name is Joy and she is blonde and lovely and knows a buttload about fish. She steered me towards the mussels and the snapper, and I didn't argue because the snapper was a big, pink, delicious looking dude.

"The snapper's the most expensive, though," Joy said.

"Are you kidding? Who cares! I am in Greece, on the waterfront, in a tiny taverna kitchen looking at a gorgeous fish that just came off the boat a few hours ago. And I have a credit card. Bring it on, baby!"

"Okay, I'll throw it on the grill for you," she said. And then she paused and eyeballed me. "Where are you from?"

I told her, and she smiled and winked at me and said, "Do you want me to take the head off before I bring it to the table?"

Joy is a saint. Because even though I love food--the freshest possible food--I don't really want to look it in the eye. I know, I know, it's wimpy and no foodie worth her salt should balk at a fish head, but I was really freaking relieved. Joy laughed. She's Canadian. She said she'd even bone the sucker for us. I want to adopt Joy.

The mussels came out first. My husband and I have a thing about mussels. We had our second date over mussels at a cute French bistro. We ate mussels in many restuaurants during our courtship. We fell in love, probably, while sharing a pot of mussels with a loaf of good bread. Mussels, hubby, and I...we have a history. And when we were married without children, I used to drive to the Whole Foods and make mussels for him at least 3 times a month. We'd open a bottle of wine and slurp down those tender guys and sop sauce with bread and pile the shells onto the table and make eyes at one another...
Babies killed that little love ritual, lemme tell ya. I don't think I've made mussels for my husband in YEARS. I just can't toodle off to the Whole Foods that's a town away anymore, at least not easily. So we were really delighted to see those mussels, especially while looking at the Santorini coast on a sunny afternoon with a bottle of wine.

These mussels were prepared simply--steamed in wine, garlic, olive oil and shallot with a good fistful of fresh parsley scattered over the top. We attacked them. Seriously, those guys didn't stand a chance with us. We were so hungry and they were so good that we hoovered them down in no time. If I had any shame, I'd have been embarrassed, but I was too happy. So good.

Joy came back to check on us and I chatted her up--a practice I have that my husband finds excruciatingly embarrassing. Salesclerks, grocery baggers, the gardener, some random lady in an elevator--I chat them up. Which is odd because growing up, my mother did the exact same thing and I wanted to die, I was so mortified. I hated it. I bit the inside of my cheek whenever she did it because it was that annoying. And look at me, thirty years later, doing the exact same thing.

Anyways, Joy visited Greece 22 years ago, laid eyes on Dimitri, fell in love, and never went back. Doesn't that just make you swoon, it's so romantic?

Then the snapper, the star of the show came out. He'd been slit open like a book, brushed with olive oil, grilled and served with an olive oil/lemon viniagrette. Joy plopped him down on our table and said,"I'm confiscating your silverware. Fish like this should be eaten with the hands."

She didn't steer us wrong. We could not stop eating it, truly. I honestly think it's my favorite thing that I've ever eaten and hubby agrees. We picked little tender morsels off, popped them into our mouths, sipped wine, tilted our faces up to the sun. I was so happy that I even shared a little fish with the taverna's resident cat, Rosie...even though she's a little fat and Joy told me not to.

Shhhh, our secret. Days like today are too good to keep for yourself.


  1. What a lovely story and the pictures are stunning. I hope someday we can visit!

  2. Delicious looking fish -I feel like this is deja vu though - I'm sure I've commented on something like this before on your blog...hmmm....glad the cat got a little taste - that cat must love it there!

  3. First off, I hate you. OK, I don't hate you, I actually like you a lot even though I have never "met" you, but I hate that I was not there with you. There, that sounds better.

    Those pictures are so beautiful that they almost look fake!

    And that food!!! The english muffin I am eating right now just isn't cutting it anymore.

  4. Phoo-D, you know enough about my photography skills to know that the place was JUST that beautiful because I can't even work a camera. YOUR photos are always gorgeous, but thank you.

    Curious: yes, Rosie loves it there. And she somehow pegged me for a sucker the minute I walked in because she didn't bug anyone else but stuck to me like glue.

    Gibby: Can I take you along next time? I think I want to go back there...like, yesterday.

  5. Wow. Amazing photographs.

    I spent many years working in a Greek diner and the owners, their families and friends spoke incessantly about their next trips home. After seeing your photographs I can't imagine what made them come back to Jersey!

  6. These pictures are absolutely gorgeous and pale in comparison to anything Florida will offer you. I don't even think we have fish like that! Would you consider gator meat instead? :)

  7. Gator meat! Awesome! Does it taste like chicken?

    Ck, I'm wondering about your job at the diner--I know several people who've worked for Greeks and they said that they were horrible to work for? The people were so friendly there that I couldn't believe this?

  8. I think I'm in love. the pics, the food, the stories.


    also, I think I need to be friends with Gibby.

  9. this post is a vacation for the reader .