It’s a dark and dull February evening, and life is normal. A friend comes over, we have dinner, and we excitedly book a trip to Santorini and Mykonos for May.
Fast forward a few weeks later, and the world has rapidly turned upside down. The speedy spread of COVID-19 throughout Europe has confined us to our homes, with the outdoors only to be enjoyed during a brief period of exercise each day. The era of evenings at the theatre, pub dates and multiple trips abroad suddenly seems so far away, and I dream of normality returning as often as I bake a banana loaf. Which is quite often.
May comes and goes and with restrictions not yet eased, we watch as our hopes of sunning ourselves on the gorgeous Greek islands trickle further and further from our grasp. But I know I am lucky. I haven’t lost anyone to this nasty virus which is changing the landscape of the world as we know it. So we simply put aside our disappointment, rebooking our flights with EasyJet for July in the hopes that things will be better by then.
But disappointment strikes again. When July comes around, travel is still restricted between the UK and Greece during the dates of our altered trip. It’s a good thing we hadn’t yet booked any accommodation or ferries.
So yet again we move our flights, this time to early August, extending it by a few days, because… why not? Will this trip ever happen? We don’t know. But if it does, we want to make the most of it.
When August comes and travel between the UK and Greece is now allowed, it isn’t until I am actually through customs at the other side of Santorini Airport that I can actually believe and accept it: we have made it!
After a celebratory jig and a swift mask removal once outside in the open air (masks are to be worn from the second we enter Gatwick airport until we are out the other side in Santorini), we finally plan how we’re going to spend our time. We have five nights here, and want to see as much of this beautiful island as we can.
There are two sides to Santorini, and we explore both. One side is rocky, with cobalt coloured domes rising from the white-washed buildings perched along the cliffs. This is the image we’ve all seen in many Instagram posts, where the sun sinks into the sea, casting a striking glow across the buildings.
The other side is vast and flat, with beaches featuring sand the colour of charcoal – Santorini and the surrounding islands are the remnants of a volcanic caldera.
Over the next few days, with masks and hand sanitizer in tow, we visit the volcano crater, hike the stunning trail from Fira to Oia, hop on and off boats to explore beaches unreachable by foot alone, and take in many of the almost unreal sunsets that Santorini is famous for.
Santorini really leaves an impression on me, but it’s soon time to leave. After a smooth 2.5-hour ferry ride, we arrive in Mykonos, part of the Cyclades group of islands. Famous for its nightlife, we don’t get to see much of it as new restrictions have come into play – all bars, clubs and restaurants are to close by midnight each night. But we explore the 16th century windmills overlooking the gorgeous streets of the chora (the main town), feed friendly, sneezing kittens, and spend long days on glorious beaches with soft sands and completely clear waters.
Five nights feels like a bit too much time here – without the nightlife there is only the beaches (and designer shops, if you’re into that), as the island doesn’t have walking trails or archaeological sites to discover – although the nearby island of Delos is an archeological site in itself. But as I sit in the Little Venice area, mesmerized by the rhythmic lapping of the sea splashing against the shoreline, the sun dipping into the horizon, not much else seems to matter. I am living in the moment, I am on holiday during a pandemic, and it all feels a bit surreal.
There are warnings of Greece being taken off what’s called the ‘travel bridge’ between the UK and other destinations. France and The Netherlands were removed recently, Spain was a while ago, and Portugal has never been on it. But Greece as a country has handled the pandemic exceptionally well and are still taking it very seriously. Masks are a requirement in all shops, on buses and in taxis, and hand sanitizers are proudly on display to be sampled in shop entrances, much like expensive perfumes used to be in department stores.
Greece relies heavily upon tourism for its economy, and I hope that coronavirus cases won’t rise enough for it to be taken off the travel bridge. I feel extremely lucky that our trip went ahead after a couple of rejigs and barely a hiccup, and the islands of Santorini and Mykonos looked even more beautiful without the masses of tourists fighting for the perfect sunset view. Who knows when I’ll next get to travel, but I do know that I’ll never again take this privilege for granted.
By Alice Bzowska