Quad biking in Santorini

Riding a scooter through the winding streets of Italy’s Amalfi Coast (or somewhere similar) has been on my bucket list for years.

I have always fancied myself cruising around with the grace and poise of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, although I’m much more a Marilyn kind-of-girl.

But still … I pictured Ray-Bans, blonde hair blowing in the wind and a handsome man alongside me as I scootered around the streets on a red vintage style Vespa.

Today I hit two out of four and I couldn’t be happier.

With the sun high in the sky, I decided to forgo a day by the pool/beach to hire a scooter and take in the sights of Santorini. It seemed easier—and far more fun—than waiting for the local bus.

At the advice of my hotel’s Guest Services officer Anna, I hired a 150cc quad bike for the day (€20) through Damaskinos in Kamari and within 10 minutes they were at the hotel ready to give me a crash-course in riding the orange beast I named Olga. 20130608-211252.jpgTo hire a scooter the driver must hold a scooter/motorcycle license while a quad bike only requires a standard motor vehicle driver’s licence.

At the end of my 10 minute lesson, with their emergency number stashed in my back pocket and a full tank of fuel (€10), they sent me on my way with one last piece of advice—”Stay on the roads. You are new. Greek drivers are crazy”.

With no plan—and no map—I set off towards Fira, leaving a whirl of dust in my wake. Well, as best you can driving at 20km/h while trying to remember how to turn corners without tipping over.

Within minutes I’d found my groove—and the accelerator—and I was of on an adventure (cue image of me running through grape shrubs Bilbo Baggins style, but with a helmet on!)

While the blue-domed white houses and their bright bursts of bougainvillea feature in most holiday snaps and postcards from Santorini, there is colour to be found off the beaten track.

Each winding road brought with it more photo opportunities and I tried to burn the warmth and tranquility of the empty beaches into my memory bank to be called on when I return to the cold and wet days of Brisbane’s winter. 20130608-210146.jpg20130608-210156.jpg20130608-210206.jpg20130608-210228.jpg20130608-210219.jpg20130608-210242.jpgWith the wind in my hair and the occasional bug hitting me in the face, I made my way up the north-east coast towards Oia.

Each afternoon as the sun begins to make its descent over the sea, thousands of tourists flock to Oia to watch as the the cliffside village is bathed in a golden glow.

Although traffic is lighter during the day, I decided to bypass the town perched high on the cliff and head for the seaside town of Amoudi Bay, which is located beneath Oia (for those who aren’t on wheels there is a set of 300 often slippery steps from Oia which take about 20 minutes to descend). 20130608-220456.jpgOnce the commercial port of Santorini, today Amoudi Bay is best known for its small row of tavernas offering fresh seafood and a romantic vibe.

I was totally feeling the love as possibly the only single person there, especially when two little old men with accordions started singing Quando, Quando, Quando.

Dimmi quando tu verrai,
dimmi quando… quando… quando…
l’anno, il giorno e l’ora in cui
forse tu mi bacerai…
—Quando, Quando, Quando—

Originally donkeys used to carry goods between the port and the town but these days they mostly carry tourists keen to tick the somewhat cheesy exercise off their to-do lists.

Okay, so I thought about it but given I almost fell off a horse that was barely moving in a flat paddock, I don’t fancy my chances on a mule. I’d just make an ass of myself (pun intended!). 20130608-210314.jpg20130608-210349.jpg20130608-210358.jpg20130608-210436.jpg20130608-220510.jpgWhile there is no denying the seaside spot is picturesque—and the food amazing—the real beauty lay beyond the tavernas.

Unsure of where exactly I was headed, but with a snippet of a memory from reading something somewhere about a swimming spot close by, I followed a rocky and well-worn path towards the far point of the bay (ignoring the sign warning of dangerous rockslides). 20130608-210424.jpgAfter climbing over some rocks mountain-goat style in my trusty black thongs and wandering along a narrow strip of concrete, I found paradise.

I literally stopped in my tracks.
This is why:

20130609-001648.jpg20130608-210407.jpg20130608-210414.jpg20130608-210256.jpgWhat made the spot even more idyllic was that there were just a handful of people there, quietly swimming and sunbathing (some sans tops).

As only an Australian can do, I had ditched my clothes in a matter of seconds and bravely stuck a foot into the sea.

Oh. Holy. Sh*t.

It was a bit cold.

With all the false bravado I could muster (and feeling a bit of peer pressure from those already in the water watching me wiggle about in my anchor print bikinis), I dropped down off the step, slid off the rock I tried to balance on and ended up shoulder deep in the water.

It was definitely breathtaking.
As in it took my breath away and left me gasping like a fish out of water.

But if I’ve learnt anything from my years of trying to go swimming at the first hint of warm weather it’s that the faster you swim—or flail about—the quicker you’ll warm up!

Which is what I did and eventually my limbs went numb and I floated around peacefully, transfixed by the amazing colours and clarity of the water and the houses built high into the cliffs above us.

20130608-220900.jpgIt was in that moment—sunglasses on, floating belly up, arms stretched wide for balance—that all of the saving, the going without (well, without some things) and the endless dinners of eggs, baked beans or toast became worth it.

When it was time to thaw out, I perched myself on a rock, one leg dangling in the water and closed my eyes.

20130609-005839.jpgAside from the splash of the water against the rocks, the only noise was from the soft chatter of people talking to each other.

As the sun warmed my skin, I listened to the French couple perched on the rocks next to mine whisper words I couldn’t understand. It was bliss.

Finally it was time to throw my clothes back on and go in search of food.

Based on a recommendation from Santorini Island Guide , I headed for the taverna with yellow on the walls.

I ordered fried calamari (€10) from Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna which is owned by a Canadian ex-pat who has been on the island for 26 years and the calamari was delicious and light. 20130608-210445.jpgThen it was time to jump back on the bike on head for the hills of Oia and Fira.

As I zoomed around the winding road between the two towns, I realised I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

20130609-002827.jpgI felt like my 10-year-old self again, racing my brother around the backyard on our 50cc motorbikes in the sunshine.

This was happiness; the wind in my hair and the almost guttural roar of the bike under me, my skin glistening after my 10th application of suncream and no rules, no need to be anywhere by anytime.

Complete and utter freedom.

It was a far cry from the night before when I was standing—and turning slightly green—on a cramped bus as we wound our way through the hills to watch the sunset.

This was the way to travel!

As the speedometer steadily increased, I felt as though I could fly. Metaphorically, of course as I’m neither Thelma or Louise.

Instead I just enjoyed the feeling and continued to pull over to wander up cobblestone paths or pose with a cranky ass when and as I felt like it! 20130608-210454.jpg20130608-210504.jpg20130608-210528.jpg20130608-210538.jpg20130608-210547.jpg20130608-210620.jpg20130608-210641.jpgWhile it is possible to cover most of the island in a day, I decided to keep my bike for an extra day and cool down with a swim in the pool and an ice-cream before dinner at White Restaurant along Kamari beach.

Keeping with my fresh seafood theme, I opted for the grilled shrimp (€14) and a Sex on the Beach (€8).

There was nothing shrimp about the prawns with five jumbo freshly grilled monsters almost the size of my cutlery placed in front of me. Yum! 20130608-223732.jpgIt was the perfect end to a glorious day.

Tomorrow I’m heading off in search of the red beach (which apparently allows nude sunbathing), the white beach and Ancient Thira.

Check out more of my Santorini photos here!

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