I can almost count on one hand the number of experienced sunrises in my life. Not much for rising before the sun, most of those sunrises have involved an early travel day. After 27 hours of travel to reach the island of Santorini from the middle of the United States, I arrived to the island’s main town of Fira under the cover of night and jet lag. After a quick meal and a shower, I am out like the light, but not for long. The church bells will soon ring.
Under such conditions, I knew a sunrise was in my future. I rose to Fira’s blue gates leading toward the sea. The sun and the tourists in town are still sleeping off the previous night’s activities.
Surged with that superhuman energy only jet lag can produce at ungodly hours, I begin to roam the deserted streets of Fira. I quickly learn on the island that sunsets are much more popular than the sunrises. Fira’s positioning at the edge of the caldera makes it a prime spot to take in the sunset, but this morning, I’m doing things a little differently.
I head for Fira’s main overlook on the north side of town. The town bathes in an orange sherbet light that I don’t often see without the assistance of jet lag. I pause to appreciate the busiest and most commercial town on the island at its most inactive.
Not a soul roams the streets with me, besides a few stray cats, the occasional trash man and two painters freshening up Santorini’s coat of white. The postcard image of Fira needs to be maintained while the rest of the world dreams.
And yet, even just after the sun wakes, rush hour begins in Fira. This form of rush hour is that of the mule variety. The donkeys head down to the office to begin a day’s work.
The morning rush of donkeys reminds me to also get to the office. I set out to explore Fira’s surroundings, beginning with the ancient site of Akrotiri. The Minoan outpost was buried in a volcanic eruption in 1613 B.C. Located at the southern end of the island, this once thriving settlement wasn’t unearthed until 1967. Today a bioclimatic shelter somewhat clutters the imagination. The roof over Akrotiri is tasked with protecting the imagination of the ruins, when in fact it distracts away from the past.
Over 30 buildings lurk below, telling the story of this important harbor town. Knocked around by several earthquakes throughout its history, the people of Akrotiri always maintained their resolve and kept rebuilding. It wasn’t until the volcanic eruption of the end of the 17th century B.C. that the city was put to rest, left buried in time.
Feeling a little dusty after roaming the old streets of Akrotiri, I decide to take a dip at one of Santorini’s beaches. Most of the beaches around Fira are like traveling to Santorini, hard to reach. I head to a beach appropriately named “Black Beach” with volcanic pebbles of charcoal coloring. A black cliff and the black beach sandwich a white cliff, lending Santorini’s own Oreo of sorts.
Just as I began my day rising with the sun, I decide to take in the sunset just outside of Fira. Dramatic, colorful and romantic, the sun tucks into the sea for the night with throngs of travelers keeping watch. These road warriors gather to see the sun set, but only a few, those jet lagged and delirious, will rise with the sun tomorrow.
Have you been to Fira?