When people ask me what angle I take with my travel blog, I tell them I am to live like a local wherever I am. Admittedly, I still do touristy things, but I find every opportunity to experience life like people who live here do.
Despite Santorini, Greece, being incredibly popular with the tourists (about 2 million of us go here a year), I’m finding ways to get at least a slice of local living.
Step One: Meet Locals
One benefit I see to solo travel is that you’re more likely to meet people than if you were traveling with someone else. In that situation, you talk to the person you’re with and aren’t sitting at a restaurant putting out an open invitation for conversation.
A few days into my stay in Megalochori, I let instinct be my guide and wandered into a place called Symposion for a presentation about music and myth. I’ll write about that experience in a separate post, because it deserves one. But what came out of that experience was friendship with two beautiful people, Argy and Yannis.
After the 45-minute tour and musical presentation, I stayed four hours, listening to them talk about the history of their cultural center and their backgrounds, as well as giving them some marketing advice. By the end of it, they’d invited me to dinner with friends on the beach!
That dinner was magical. More about it in a minute. But even though the four people I was with spoke Greek most of the time, I didn’t mind. I liked feeling like a fly on the wall for what would be a normal dinner with friends. This was a far cry from the tourist-infested restaurants in Fira!
Now I have friends in Santorini, which gives me more incentive to return.
Step Two: Eat Where Santorini Folk Do
There is a plethora of restaurants all over the island. And they are packed with people speaking French, English, Italian, and German. But I was shocked when I arrived at Yalos. I mean, it was a gorgeous restaurant on the beach. Literally, on the sand. Where were all the Americans Instagramming their food?
Maybe they’d already come and gone. We had a very late dinner, ending at midnight. The restaurant seemed to attract locals. While I want to keep this hidden gem hidden, I also have to tell you: the food was amazing. Because my new friends were close with the owner, we had a waterfall of chef’s choice dishes delivered over the course of several hours.
Simple, fresh, delicious salad. Whipped goat cheese topped with caviar from fish caught in a local lake. Tomato and zucchini fritters. Freshly caught fish grilled or fried. Decadent desserts.
Not an ounce of souvlaki or moussaka to be found. It will be one of my most memorable meals in all of my travels.
On the way home, Argy asked if I wanted a traditional cheese pie for breakfast. We stopped at a local bakery (they’re mostly open 24 hours and have fresh goodies baked throughout the day) and my eyes popped at all the gorgeous delicacies. I took a cheese pie and a sweet one, and have been eating on them for days.
Step Three: Get Off of the Tourist Path
Apparently I’m allergic to something in Santorini, because my allergies have gone off. I walked to the pharmacy here in Perissa (the beach town I relocated to halfway through my trip) but unfortunately, it was closed for a holiday. I happened to notice a salon next door that offered massages, so decided to treat myself.
For about $65, I had a wonderful, relaxing massage from Rita, a chatty woman who ended up telling me to see her friend, Helen, at a nearby tour agency about taking a sunset cruise tour. When I arrived at the tour agency, relaxed from my massage, Helen greeted me warmly, as she already knew I was coming.
It’s so nice to talk to people who can refer you to others. Also I’m sure if I’d gone to a hotel on the beach strip for a massage, it would have cost double!
Also, I love taking photos of the cliche stuff as much as anyone, but I also wander through neighborhoods to find more interesting things to photograph that not everyone else does. I’ll find an interesting angle of a church dome or a lazy cat sunning on a white wall.
Step Four: Ask Questions
I find that people like answering questions about themselves, and asking them has helped me better understand locals. Many of the people I’ve met (servers and masseuses included) are from Athens or elsewhere and come here for the season to make money.
Rita is sad when she returns to Athens for the winter, because she misses having so many people from around the globe to talk to. Another girl who was a hostess at a restaurant was eager to return. She’d come here to heal from heartbreak, and now that she was feeling better, she wanted to go home.
Every solo trip I take, I learn more about what makes people tick. I also realize how connected we all are. That’s one of the joys of travel!