Celebrating in Santorini
Our friend and photographer Perry Vaile recently celebrated her 30th birthday, and a special surprise, in Santorini this spring. Of course, her photographs are stunning, but we also loved learning more about where she journeyed and why. Enjoy!
Why Santorini for your 30th birthday?
My husband and I were always big into traveling but took a break when my first daughter was born to focus on family time (and ya know, sleeping through the night). With so much travel for work as a wedding photographer 2.5 years had passed before I realized we hadn't taken a big trip on our own in quite awhile! We were already talking about our hopes to welcome a second baby and I knew I needed to jump at the chance to go have the trip of a lifetime before we launched back into a new life change.
My 30th birthday and a temporary break in my schedule meant that the stars aligned to make it happen. We’d been to so many places together, but this time I wanted rest and peace (instead of climbing mountains or road tripping across the West Coast). Santorini seemed to be the epitome of relaxation with beautiful views and mild temperatures. Little did I know that I would find myself in Santorini on my 30th birthday surprising my husband with the news that I was expecting albeit a bit earlier than we had anticipated!
Tell us about the Easter celebrations also going on while you were there.
I was born on Palm Sunday, and my birthday always fell around Eastertime, for that reason, it's held a special place in my heart from the very beginning. When I realized that our trip would overlap with the Greek Orthodox celebration of Easter, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
There were many celebrations happening in and around the island during our time there, and it was so special to be a part of. The celebration of Easter for island residents means that Santorini is officially opening for business, stores are unlocking their doors and the warmer weather is settling in (it also means that prices are going UP for rentals, so hopping in the week prior can really save you a chunk of change!).
While the island is quiet at this time for most tourists, it's a time of reflection and celebration for locals. We met a few locals and learned about the tradition of the red eggs (kokkina avga), which is typical part of the Greek Easter—the eggs were dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus. My husband and I participated by finding red eggs at the local bakery and taking part in the game of cracking them “tsougrisma” which represents the breaking open of the tomb.
Good Friday in Santorini is something that shouldn’t be missed—in fact, the unique way that a small village on the island (Pyrgos) celebrates is heralded as one of the most awe-inspiring Easter celebrations in the world. Having experienced it now first hand, I can truly say it was surreal and captivating.
On the Friday before Easter, the town of Pyrgos spends hours putting out large cans of flammable materials on all of the rooftops (and I do mean ALL THE ROOFTOPS). As the sun goes down and the town PACKS with onlookers, the deposition of the Cross begins with songs and chanting as its brought to the city center. From that point, the funeral procession of Jesus (Epitaph) begins and the entire town is illuminated as young boys and men run across the town and light every candle-can. In no time the dark town is glowing in fire, as procession begins led by singing throughout all of the streets and alleys of Pyrgos.
On Great Saturday, the following day many areas celebrate with service and fireworks in the evening - in fact, in Oia where we stayed the celebrations knocked out the power for about a half an hour, so we lit our room by candlelight and watched the glow of hand-made fireworks light up the town. On Sunday, almost everything is closed in Greece accept for a few areas - this is the day in which most locals take time off and enjoy time with family over a roasted lamp on a spit.
What's your best advice for visiting Santorini?
First, consider the time of year you visit - too deep into winter and it's chilly, the stores are all closed and it's not quite the “Santorini” experience you might expect! If you visit in the middle of summer, it’s high-season for the island, not only will you be grilling in the reflected light of all those white buildings, but tourists will jam every store, restaurant and view - not to mention prices can be almost double what they are in the low-season. The shoulder seasons are best for both moderate/comfortable weather and great deals on places to stay!
Secondly, don’t overlook the importance of locals. Look into local-owned places like the Airbnb we stayed in. Our host was amazing, his place was private and unique for us to enjoy and we always had someone to give advice on the best places to visit—and warnings on what to avoid. We met so many locals on our stay—from a renowned painter who let me take is portrait and offered us a drink, to a jeweler who found the perfect heirloom keepsake for us to bring back, to a restauranteur who saved us the best seat in the house for our final night - I’m so glad we took the time to make friends during our stay because we left feeling like we knew more about the island and its people.
Finally, research the towns very carefully. Not all of Santorini is pristine with the white buildings you see on postcards. To us, though Oia was a bit more pricey than the rest of the island, it was the only place that truly allowed us to experience the quintessential Santorini. It was the cleanest, most accessible, and overall less-hectic portion of the island (the main streets of Oia don’t allow cars so it sometimes feels like its part of a Disney set!) We walked to the best restaurants, the most striking views and felt safe (from both crime and cars) our entire stay. It was easy from there to rent a car and explore the rest of the island on a lazy Tuesday. We spent so much time in Oia since our rental was just off the main street that by the end of the week we were waving hello to half of the shop owners as we walked by.