Remembrance–Pearl Harbor, Dachau, and a Special Visitor

On December 7th, the United States commemorated one of the most tragic events in our history–the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Every year we remember the attacks, the sacrifices of our servicemen and women, and the death of over 2400 of our American soldiers.  These attacks caused the US to declare war on Japan and officially become involved in WWII.  Thinking back to all of my history lessons on WWII, I always wonder what might have taken place had the Allied forces ignored Hitler’s progression through Europe for just a little longer, what would have resulted had the U.S. never gotten involved at all.

This year I had a very special opportunity.  On December 5th, 87-year old Mrs. Bluma Shapiro came to our school to talk to our students about this tumultuous time in history.  Her experience was one that many others shared, but not many lived to talk about.  Mrs. Shapiro is a survivor of the Holocaust.

Throughout this post I will share my recollection of Mrs. Shapiro’s story (which she encouraged me to do).  The photos that will accompany the story do not match the images from the various concentration camps in which Mrs. Shapiro was imprisoned, but they were taken at our visit of Dachau Concentration Camp in spring of 2011 and will serve as a comparison.

Mrs. Shapiro’s story begins in a small town in Poland that was very close to the border of the Soviet Union.  In 1939 when Stalin and Hitler made a non-aggression pact, Poland was divided into two territories–that of Hitler’s Germany and that of Stalin’s USSR.  For awhile, the Jewish population in Mrs. Shapiro’s town, controlled by the Soviets, functioned as normally as could be expected for the times despite rumors from outsiders that told of the terrible things the were happening to Jewish communities.

Soon, though, when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, changes took place.  The Jewish community was subjected to curfews, and for the first time, Mrs. Shapiro saw Jewish friends shot dead in the street.  As restrictions intensified and a Jewish ghetto was constructed, Mrs. Shapiro’s living quarters grew crowded; what began as 3 people in a small apartment ended up as 25.  Jewish business men, including her father, lost their businesses.  Any available work was to be found outside of the ghetto, but often times people who went out did not return.  Because Mrs. Shapiro was a smart girl, fluent in several languages, she got a job transcribing for officials.  Despite the fact that she did not want to work for the Soviets or the Germans, she figured that refusal would be even worse.

Eventually, diseases and hunger caused desperation throughout the ghetto.  People tried to smuggle in anything; food, clothing, and medication were desperately needed.  Once, a young woman was caught trying to smuggle in some cooking oil.  Mrs. Shapiro, returning from her job, witnessed the soldiers force the woman to drink the oil and then beat her to death.  Even though working outside of the ghetto was very dangerous, Mrs. Shapiro was lucky enough to have a kind-hearted German boss who did what he could to help her family survive.  He walked her to and from the ghetto and often helped her smuggle in extra goods and food for her family.  Throughout her experience, Mrs. Shapiro encountered several “angels” who made it possible for her to survive.

Meanwhile, many Jews from other cities were sneaking into the ghetto, hoping to find food for their families.  They carried with them news from other parts of Poland and Germany and spoke of the “liquidation” of many other Jewish ghettos. Hurriedly, the families in the ghetto built hiding places.  For the most part, the Jews in the ghetto were prepared by the time that the order came for all of the Jews in Mrs. Shapiro’s town to be “relocated.”

Mrs. Shapiro, because of her family connections, was asked to go into hiding with some doctors in her village.  Reluctantly, her parents said yes and retired to their own hiding place in their apartment.  This was to be the last time she ever saw her family.

The Germans, for eight days, searched the ghetto.  Many families, exposed by the crying of children, perished immediately, while others were sent off to the train station.  Mrs. Shapiro’s ghetto was carefully hidden; the Nazis heard the crying of children but could not figure out how to access the bunker.  Eventually, they decided to burn down the bunker.  At that time, the doctors and Mrs. Shapiro gave themselves up and marched to the train station, meeting hoards of other Jews.

At the train station, Mrs. Shapiro, along with 200 other people, were shoved into cattle cars.  They were given a pail to use for a restroom, despite the fact that with so many people tightly packed, it was impossible to even get to the pail.  At this point, Mrs. Shapiro reported, you just stopped being human.  Because you couldn’t go, you didn’t have to.

When they arrived at the first camp, 12-24 hrs. later, Mrs. Shapiro witnessed one of the most horrific events of her entire experience.  Laughing, a German soldier grabbed a baby out of a mother’s arms, threw it in the air and shot at it like a clay pigeon.  Not long after, Mrs. Shapiro learned that all of the women from her hometown were grouped together and gassed.  Her mother and sisters were all dead.

Gas Chambers at Dachau Concentration Camp

Through the course of the next several years, Mrs. Shapiro was transferred to several different camps including one of the most horrific camps in history–Auschwitz.  Entering Auschwitz, Mrs. Shapiro recalled the sign: Arbeit Macht Frei.  Work makes you free.

Arbeit Macht Frei--Dachau Concentration Camp

When arriving, men and women were immediately separated.  Unsure of whether or not they were being taken to the gas chambers, the women reluctantly stepped into delousing showers and were shaven head to toe by members of the Nazi party.  With little clothing (they grabbed whatever they could after coming out of the showers), Mrs. Shapiro headed to her barracks where hundreds of people were crammed into a small space.

Outside of the Barracks

Example of bunks in the barracks

Prisoner Numbers in the Barracks

Starving, the prisoners received moldy loaves of bread once a week.  They hid them while sleeping, tucking them anywhere they might be safe from other prisoners–under bosoms or heads.  The attempt was futile, however.  The rats, crawling on their bodies as they slept, ate the bread out from under them.

Dachau--the foundations of barracks that once existed

Frequently, Mrs. Shapiro witnessed the death of her campmates.  They were shot, beaten, or starved to death.  Frequently, prisoners committed suicide, a very easy task in Auschwitz.  Sometimes prisoners ran to the high-voltage electric fence that surrounded the camp.  At other times, prisoners knew that if they crossed too close to the fence, appearing to want to escape, guards from the towers above would shoot them dead.

Dachau

Guard Tower at Dachau

The fact that Mrs. Shapiro is alive to share her story is quite remarkable, especially considering that she was at Auschwitz during the time when the infamous Dr. Mengele was selecting patients for experimentation.  As Mrs. Shapiro recalled, Dr. Mengele would line up the women 5 at a time and choose who was to go into forced labor, who would go to the gas chambers, and who would be subjected to experimentation.  Mrs. Shapiro stated that she tried to hide in the back, keeping her head down.  “The Angel of Death” performed live experimentation on his human subjects, and the night after Dr. Mengele selected his patients, Mrs. Shapiro stated that the screaming and smell of burning flesh permeated the camp air.

Creamatorium at Dachau

At one point, Mrs. Shapiro, whose forced labor was that of digging mass graves, didn’t think she could make it any longer.  She fell onto the ground and was attacked by dogs. For some reason, instead of being killed, she was allowed to stay in a hospital barracks for an unprecedented 3-4 days. One person there gave her soup to make her strong, and miraculously, Mrs. Shapiro got her health back and survived. Incidents like this happened frequently throughout Mrs. Shapiro’s experience.  Somehow, despite the fact that there were so many evil people, there were also those who did what they could to help Jews survive. One of the male doctors from her home town was separated from her by the electric fence.  Every so often he risked his life by hiding extra clothing or food under the fence for Mrs. Shapiro to retrieve.

Looking at the camp from inside the barracks

In 1945, the Germans were losing their grip on power in Europe and abandoned the concentration camp at Auschwitz.   It was decided that all of the remaining prisoners in the concentration camps should be marched further into Germany.  On this “Death March” of 35 miles, prisoners walked for hours without food and water, without appropriate clothing (in the middle of January), and without a break.  Somehow, despite the fact that 40% of the prisoners died during the march, Mrs. Shapiro survived.

It wasn’t long before the German soldiers retreated, abandoning the camp and liberating the prisoners.  Suddenly exposed to so much food, many people died from over-consumption.  After years of deprivation, their bodies could not handle the sudden intake of so much food.  After their release, Mrs. Shapiro and 2 friends gorged themselves, eating 10 pounds of potatoes and an entire lamb in one sitting. Luckily, Mrs. Shapiro and her friends bodies were able to accept the massive amounts of food.  Mrs. Shapiro told me privately that it was very difficult for her to regulate her eating for some time; after her wedding, there was lots of turkey and other leftovers.  The knowledge of the leftovers was too much for Mrs Shapiro to take; in the middle of the night, she sneaked down and ate every last bit of leftover food.  The knowledge that food was available was too much for her brain to process.

After liberation at the age of 22, Mrs. Shapiro found her way back home to her town in Poland where it was confirmed that no one else in her family had survived the Holocaust. While there, she married and in less than 5 yrs, emigrated to the United States.  Currently, Mrs. Shapiro resides in Baltimore where she is a proud grandmother and great-grandmother.

This experience, for me, was overwhelming.  My 7th grade students absorbed as much of Mrs. Shapiro’s story as they could.  They gathered around her, hugged her, and stared as she unbuttoned the sleeve of her blouse to expose “A15250,” the tattoo of her prisoner number at Auschwitz.  The magnitude of Mrs. Shapiro’s experience is too much for anyone to truly understand.  What struck me the most, however, was Mrs. Shapiro’s passion when discussing the need to pass her story on.  Despite all that she experienced, never has her faith in humanity dissipated.

Her message:  We must remember. We must talk about it.  We must believe that people are innately good.

And it’s true.  By the time my 7th graders have 7th graders of their own, there will be no more Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories. We must be the story-tellers for the people who have suffered so much; we must live our lives better every day in recognition of the people who suffered so that we could learn lessons from history.

We must never forget.

Memorial at Dachau

To hear a recording of Mrs. Shapiro’s story:

http://www.prx.org/pieces/16982

(You must sign up for a free membership, but it’s definitely worth it).

Home in the US

Okay, I’ve been wanting to post this for months…MONTHS!  I guess it just goes to show that back in the US, the speed of life functions at an exponential pace.  I’m back to work; Russ has returned to his York office; the dogs are in their original home; and life goes on.  Is it strange that I feel that our lives in Germany are still continuing in some sort of alternate dimension?  Maybe.

We are sincerely enjoying the following things about having returned home:

1. Getting to visit with some particularly entertaining members of the family who we missed dearly.

Our nephew

Pizza Making Lessons

2. Spending quality time with the happiest dogs in the world.

Major and Maggie

3. Searching after (and finding) some of the best and worst German restaurants in the surrounding areas. (Post to come!)

Yum.

There are a lot of good things about being here.  Lots.  But, just for the fun of it.  Here are our top 6 annoyances of being back in the States:

1. Politics.  ‘Nuff said.

2. Bad drivers.  Passing on double yellows, running lights, tailgating.  Take us back to the Autobahn, please!

3. Work.  (Okay, I like my job and all, but seriously, who wouldn’t rather just plan trips to countries on weekdays and then go there on weekends??)  Plus, I’m pretty sure I forgot how much work it takes to maintain a house, take care of two animals and a husband, and go to a job of my own.  I’m adapting.

4. Things people wear….to weddings, to restaurants, to the grocery store.  Wow, have we looked at ourselves in the mirror lately?? Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and I find myself creeping back to the old days. Sweatpants are just so comfortable.

5. German speakers, where are you?  We are desperate to hold onto our grasp of the German language, but every day it seems to be slipping a little more.  It’s rare to find a person in the US who is bilingual at all, let alone in German.  What’s with that??

6. It’s amazing to think of all the places we’ve been, but sometimes it’s equally as depressing to say “Oh, remember where we were last September/October/Thanksgiving?”  (aka, we’re not there anymore!!!)  Here’s a recap of last year’s fall months.  Take your guesses!

I’ll give you some hints. :)

What do you think?

Can you guess?

One of my absolute favorites.

We'll save the easiest for last. :)

Post your best guesses. :)  We’ll be around, definitely not as frequently but hopefully more frequently than we were around in the last couple months.  Be easy on us, adjusting takes some time.   Oh, and if anyone hears about a miracle job where we’d get to travel around the world and blog for money, let me know.  I think I just might know two tramps who’d be up for the gig.

Epic Road Trip – Swiss Alps

Cars.

For this half of the Two Tramps, cars have played a big part of the entire experience while living in Germany.  Before arriving, I went through a dream list of cars I would love to drive while we were here.  The criteria were relatively simple:

  • German (I have a penchant for German cars, having been raised surrounded by Volkswagens and BMW’s)
  • Something not available in the US (let’s face it: Europeans have many, many more choices than we do in the States, and often many better cars from which to choose)
  • Diesel.  Diesel is cheap(er), efficient, and the engines have torque.

Top on my list, then, was the BMW 1-series hatchback.  And lo and behold, with the help of a colleague and fellow 1-series diesel driver, I ended up with a 2007 120d.

BMW 120d.

Now, I surely did not get this car for the color.  Nor did I choose it because I like paying a premium for a car I used only a few times per month.  No, this was the right choice because BMW’s are driver’s cars.

And what better way to experience and enjoy the drive than through the Swiss Alps?

For my side of the family, the Road Trip is a way of life.  1400 miles (2200 km) in a weekend is no big deal.

My better half, though, has not quite come around to this way of thinking.  So, rather than subject her to strenuous speeds and curves, my Dad came for a visit just as Lauren left – and we headed for the alps.

Auf wiedersehen, Lauren!

You must have clearly defined roles on a Road Trip.  Otherwise confusion can set in.  Luckily, with only two participants, the roles are simple:

The Driver:

Russ and the 120d.

The Photographer:

Behind the scenes of the best pictures.

Of course since we’re both Drivers and Photographers, these roles are not set in stone.

The Driver photographing the Photographer. Driving.

And with that, we set out on a semi-soggy day in southern Germany, through cloudy Austria, along Liechtenstein, into Switzerland, and scraping Italy.  All in one day (even after more than a year here, this still impresses me).

Our base of operations was Chur, Switzerland, the country’s oldest city, and the seat of the Romansh-speaking region, though German dominates.  From Chur, we headed for the San Bernardino Pass, and other points.  Time to let the pictures do the talking.

The Pass looks like an intestine, which is directly related to the effect driving this road has on the stomach.

Complete with bells, which could be heard from quite a distance away.

Sittin' on top of the Pass (it was cold!).

Entering the Italian-culture region of Switzerland. Besides road signs, the GPS started calling number-named roads 'tredici' and 'due.'

We did not actually see this happen.

Beautiful, sunny, and warm: Locarno, on Lago Maggiore, where I pushed the German out of my head and tried my best to remember Italian.

Heading for the next pass.

Appropriate.

Temperature dropped to 3 degrees C on top of Oberalppass (back to German-speaking).

I realized, suddenly, that I could no longer read the road signs. I know scuola in Italian, and schule in German. And now I know scola in Romansh.

And so our day ended back in Chur, as Dad kept track, 7.5 hours, 338 km, and 4.87 GB worth of pictures and videos later.

And I promise, Lauren, to take you back, and to stick to the straighter roads. :-)

Anniversary Wishes

Two years ago I married my best friend.  It started like this.

2005

We met in college (my junior years, his sophomore) when I needed help on a math problem.  I went down the hall to meet with a few of the people that I knew to be engineers.  I mean, engineers certainly can help a poor-old literature major with one measly math problem, right?  When I arrived in the room, Russ, a friend-of-my-friend and also an engineer, was there visiting.  Soon, I had several engineers grouped around me, trying to figure out the problem.  It was one of those horrible “this train leaves from A, this one from B, but a fly flies at 3 mph and leaves at this time…” Russ stayed with me during the whole process of working out the problem, which as I recall, was actually drawn in typical engineering style on the whiteboard in their room!  I thanked them graciously and headed to class.

The next day, I once again had to visit Russ and the other engineers because after 1 hr of working on the problem, diagramming on a white board, and arguing…..THEIR ANSWER WAS WRONG!!! Ironically, the solution was so simple that we all had overlooked it.  But regardless, even if the answer was wrong, it was the start of something very right.

Oh, did I mention that I was his Resident Assistant and our relationship was technically forbidden?  We met in the spring of ’05 and for the rest of that year, kept our relationship under wraps (probably not as much as we thought).

Young faces in 2005

Bucknell homecoming 2007

We dated through my senior year of college and through Russ’s senior year.  We had a lot of fun together,  One Easter weekend, we went to visit his parents in Rochester, NY.

Found on an Easter egg hunt

engagement photo

the real engagement photo

  And then, on the most beautiful day in July 2009 (I know, I’m biased), we married on the campus where we met, at Bucknell University.

my beautiful bridesmaids

what a day!

One month after we were married, Russ brought home the news that his boss had asked him to go to Germany for about 1 1/2 yrs.  My first reaction was no, of course not.  We just got married, we have a house, we have these guys…

Major

Maggie--pink belly after being spayed

But the more it sat on us, the more we knew we couldn’t turn the opportunity down.  Who gets to live in Europe for a year of their lives?? We were nervous, of course, about learning German, fitting in with the customs, and leaving our home and especially our doggies.  But, my parents graciously accepted the dogs into their home, built a fence, and now they don’t want to give them back!!

So since we’ve been married, we’ve celebrated our 2 anniversaries living abroad here in Germany.  But really, we’ve celebrated over the course of our year-and-some here, every time we had the opportunity to travel and explore a new place.

At the top of the Muenster Cathedral in Ulm, Germany

Hohenschwangau, Germany

in Berlin at the Reichstag

In Nuremberg, Germany

in Freiburg, Germany

in Stuttgart, Germany

in Barcelona, Spain

in Cologne, Germany

in Paris, France

in Prague, Czech Republic

in Dinklesbuhl, Germany

In Rothenburg, Germany

in Vienna, Austria

in Florence, Italy

in Pisa, Italy

Siena, Italy

Castle Gargonza, Italy

Orvieto, Italy

in Rome, Italy

by the Bodensee, Germany

in Wolfsburg, Germany

am Bodensee, Germany

Mainau Island, Germany

Munich, Germany

in Salzburg, Austria

in Amsterdam, Netherlands

in Santorini, Greece

and of course, in Heidenheim, Germany

Heidenheim

These past 2 years have been utterly wonderful.  We have enjoyed every minute of each other, and our experiences abroad have taught us to respect and trust one another even more.  Russ, I love you, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring!  We have already experienced so much, and through it all, grown together.  Here’s to the start of another chapter in our lives!

Happy Anniversary!

Ahoy, Matey! A Boat Trip to Satorini’s Active Volcano

Saturday was our FAVORITE day on the island!  We ended the previous night in Oia and were starting our morning back there, bright and early. The night before, we arranged a trip with a local travel agency.  The plan was to first get on a boat from the port at Oia and sail our way to the volcanic caldera. So, we hopped on a local shuttle with several other couples and made our way down to the port. After dropping us off, the shuttle bus was supposed to return to Oia in order to pick up the remaining passengers.

Port in Oia from above--blocked by the cliffs

Made it!

Here comes our boat!

Ahh! Crystal clear water

Within 10 minutes of boarding, we pulled away from the port.  Umm, and about that other busload of paid customers?? Well, turns out that after he dropped us off, the shuttle bus driver conveniently “forgot” about the rest of the patrons back in the village.  We watched him prop up his feet and smoke countless cigarettes.  Maybe, we thought, the next passengers get on a different boat?  Nope!  After getting 100 yards or so off shore, the shuttle bus came screaming down the road to the port, beeping its horn incessantly.  Apparently we had forgotten some people….duh!  We giggled as we returned to port to pick up the stranded customers.  Oh, Greece.

Pulling away from Port

Looking up at Oia

The water was a little choppy!

Fira from the boat

Nice Striations of Color

Approaching the volcano. Check out that volcanic rock!

Pulling into Port

After we pulled into port, we met with our tour guide, Mama Zoey.  Mama Zoey had lived on the island of Santorini all of her life and had been to the top of the volcano over 3,000 times!  No wonder she left us in the dust as she climbed!

Our group

This rock formation, as well as the island of Santorini, are what remains after a catastrophic volcanic eruption during the Minoan Times, long, long ago in 17 Century BC.  The islands themselves formed almost a complete circle, but after the powerful (7 magnitude) explosion, many of the islands have been completely underwater.  The legend of Atlantis actually dates back to this massive eruption, which is still one of the highest recorded ratings of any volcanic eruption. The colors of the beaches (red, white, and black) depend on which geologic layer was revealed after the top of the volcano literally blew off.  The volcano itself is still considered active with the last eruption having occurred in the 1950’s.

And so, with Mama Zoey providing all of the necessary information, we continued our way up to the top of the volcano. At one point she told us that we would be at the top in “4 Greek minutes.”  We learned enough from the bus schedule to know that 4 minutes could essentially mean either:

 1. We’re already on the top! 

2.  We’ve still got 15 minutes to go.  :)

Volcanic Rock

Russ's need for photography landed us at the back of the group :)

Volcanic Crater

Fira

Near the top

Russ on the volcano

Boats!

Beautiful panoramic views

from the volcano

At the top of the volcano we stopped to learn more about the history of the island, and Mama Zoey dug a hole and let us feel the sulfur-y steam that escaped.  No, there was not any lava.  But the panoramic view of the surrounding islands was beautiful! We spent 20 minutes simply enjoying our surroundings.  Afterwards, we made our way cautiously down and back to the boat.  Some of the women on the tour chose to wear sandals or cute shoes….to hike. up. a .VOLCANO.  I had no sympathy for them when they slid their way down the mountain with dusty feet.  Mean? maybe.  But, seriously people.

After we arrived back at the boat, we headed to our second destination–the lava-heated mineral baths.  The boat stopped about 100 meters away from an area where the water turned considerably browner.  I had every intention of getting off of the boat and swimming in the mineral water–until Mama Zoey explained to us that it’s possible we’ll come back dirty and it’s most probable we’ll smell like sulfur for the rest of the day.  As one fellow traveler said to me, “THAT wasn’t in the brochure.”  It certainly wasn’t, but it was hot, and we had just climbed a mountain, and besides, who wants to miss an opportunity to jump off of a boat in the middle of the Aegean??  Not me.  I decided to swim…in an area away from the stinky water.

Others swim towards the mineral baths

I kept myself in the "unstinky" water

The spec on the right is me, making my way towards the church

ahhh

So incredibly refreshing!! After we successfully loaded all of the swimmers back into the boat (trust me, it wasn’t that easy), we headed to our final destination, the island of Therasia, for lunch.  Therasia has a population of about 300 people, mostly fisherman.  There’s a school, but they don’t really have enough kids for it. ;)

Gyros for lunch and a great view

The Port

The several hundred stairs lead up to the actual town

Friend!

some of the other "restaurants" at the port

Fun day!

Beautiful!

When we got back to Oia, we took the bus to our hotel, where we spent some time swimming and relaxing.  I’m pretty sure we went back into Fira that night for dinner, but we actually have *gasp* no pictures!  It was nice for Russ to walk around and enjoy the environment without worrying about pictures.  I can assure you, though, the sunset was amazing. :)

Day 3–Swimming in the Aegean

For day 3 in Santorini we had two main items on our agenda–half a day at the beach, the rest of the day in Oia to await the sunset.  Sunsets in Oia are largely purported to be the most beautiful in all of the world.  We were already thinking it would be difficult to top what we saw from Fira!

There are many beaches on the island of Santorini, some more desirable than others, and some that are even impossible to reach.  And they come in various colors–red, white, and black!  The red beach is accessible by foot after a slightly treacherous trail; the white beach is only accessible by boat (and then un-read tourists realize they have to wade their way towards shore in waist-high water); the black beaches are the most easy to access and probably the most popular because of it.

We headed to Kamari beach.  I wanted to head to a black beach for aesthetics, so we were deciding between the famed beaches of Perissa or Kamari.  Unbeknownst to me, Russ had an ulterior motive.  He knew which beach provided the best, up-close-and-personal view of planes coming in to land at the Santorini airport.  And so, to Kamari we went!

Kamari Beach

the beach

We set up shop under one of the cute little umbrellas with beach chairs (3€/person for the whole day).  It was quite nice to lounge on the beach chairs as the sand is less like sand and more like rocks.  Shoes or sandals necessary.

Lauren at Kamari Beach

Incoming! Good view from underneath our umbrella

The sheer “coolness” of being at Kamari beach did not really hit me til we got in the water.  Umm, hello, we’re swimming in the Aegean Sea!  I’m pretty sure that was my exact statement!  It was so different than swimming on the east or west coast of the US.  After wading out to our thighs in the rocky water, it got deep FAST!  And of course the scenery is just ridiculous. I wish I could give you a picture from the water. :)

These people already can't touch

Rows of umbrellas on Kamari Beach

After a morning/early afternoon at the beach, we headed to Oia to check out the town and stay around for the famed sunset.  We wanted to get there early because we heard about the swarms of people who make their way to Oia around 6 o’clock.  We’d also seen the hoards of people piled onto the buses, barely standing room only.  Plus, we figured that there’d be enough to do there.

We were kind of wrong.  Don’t misunderstand me, Oia is a beautiful place.  It has a definite charm to it and is a lot more “village-like” than the city of Fira.  We were definitely intrigued and wowed by the architecture and  the view.  We enjoyed walking around through the narrow-alleys and panting our way up stone step after stone step.  But it was HOT.  and WHITE.  and REFLECTIVE. The stores and restaurants were definitely limited compared to Fira, but we found enough places to stop and have a cool drink when necessary.

Oia

streets of Oia

Blue-dome church again

Russ in Oia

We stopped here for a drink...not too shabby!

hanging off of a cliff

I can't help myself. I find friends everywhere.

and these guys love me!

but these guys are jealous. dogs and cats everywhere!!

church in Oia

lovely

People starting to assemble on the old castle for sunset viewing

The real “village” atmosphere smacked us in the face when we decided we should probably get some money out of an ATM.  We remembered seeing one by the bus station, so we walked back down the hill to procure some funds.  Unfortunately, the ATM had run out of money (it’s Friday).  It wouldn’t be refilled until Monday.  Totally fine, except there literally is not another ATM in Oia.  The next closest one–Fira.  :)

Beauty.

After our second drink stop, we started to get into position for sunset viewing.  Seriously, an almost-deserted town can certainly manifest a lot of bodies all at once!  It’s best to secure a spot early on!

We've got a good hour to go.

but the crowds are building

sunset in Oia

Crepe in Greece? Why not.

a glimpse of the donkeys that carry people up from the port

getting closer

 

The end.  :)  Another beautiful and exhausting day completed.  Day 4, coming up, was absolutely our best of the trip, so be sure to check back soon!

 

Santorini Day 2

Relaxation started to set in on our second day.  I want you to know that it takes A LOT for me not to plan what we are going to do on a vacation.  Typically, I spend a lot of time researching, buying tickets, making reservations, and learning the ins-and-outs of our environment.  For Santorini,  Russ and I both agreed to play it by ear and explore our surroundings at a leisurely pace.  So we slept in a little on Thursday and ordered our breakfast.  Breakfast at Meli Meli is served on your patio so you can enjoy the beautiful weather and view.

Breakfast time

Our Patio

We had briefly read about a hike from the city of Fira to the city of Oia and totally wanted to experience hiking up the mountains from one side of the island to the other.  It sounded like an amazing experience, standing on top of the volcanic-rock mountains and staring out into the vast surrounding ocean.  We took the bus to Fira to start our journey and from there, headed uphill.

Climbing toward Imerovigli and Oia

Walking up the hill towards Imerovigli and Oia

From whence we came...looking back towards Fira

Russ looks cool, but it was HOT!

We walked, and walked, and walked.  We were supposed to come to certain checkpoints that pointed our way to Oia.  The first was a church that was painted white, had bells, and was topped with a blue dome.  Newsflash: all the churches in Santorini look the same.

Could this be it?

We made our way to Imerovigli, the next village up on the hill and wandered around for a long time searching for our next checkpoint.  Ok, we were lost.  And hot.  We could see Oia from our vantage point, and it looked really far away.  We had already been walking for 2 hrs, and the original hike we referenced suggested the total hike time as 1-2 hrs.  Clearly, we did something wrong.

Never fear, though.  Without having our whole trip planned out, we could change our course and feel okay about it.  We decided to scrap the hike (since we never found the real trail) and find a nice shady spot for lunch.  And we did.  There is nothing like a nice, fresh plate of Tzatziki to cool you down!  We enjoyed fruit smoothies, grilled veggies, and tzatziki before heading back to our hotel to take an afternoon dip!

Yes, please!

The view from our hotel

In the evening we headed to Fira again for dinner.  We had seen (through the bus window) this great little restaurant we were longing to try.  It was off the main strip, away from all the tourist traps, and was surrounded by trees and plants.  We decided we were drawn to it because it was similar to a German biergarten! :)

The Pelican Restaurant

Russ enjoyed sampling the Greek beer, and for me, the wine was just fine

Yum.

After a delicious and relaxing dinner (with free Santorini dessert wine–so sweet it was almost syrupy!), we headed back into town to see our second sunset.

If you could only see the amount of flashes going off!

lovely.

sunset in Fira

amazing

sunset end

Tomorrow—the beach! :)

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