Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine’s Love Story Spans the Continent & the Years: Part I

Tracy & Jason at the beach on Santorini

St. Valentine’s Day got me thinking about when I found my true love.

Jason and I met in Southern California during the summer of 1994.  I had just landed in Los Angeles after having spent some time with my Mom in New Mexico after my college graduation; and Jason had just returned to LA after living in Europe for several months while playing professional volleyball.  http://allthingsfashionating.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=50#!/2011/08/celebrating-13-years-of-marital-bliss.html
Jason had spent the last few weeks of his European adventure on the Greek Island of Ios.  This tiny island – 11 miles long and 6 miles wide – had made such an impression on him that he vowed to take me there one day.

On our first Valentine’s Day, Jason surprised me with the arrangements for us to travel to Greece and back-pack through the Greek Islands later in the year.  We were both in our early 20s and weren’t working in our career fields yet; so we had nothing to really tie us down…except that we didn’t have a lot of money.
But who needs money when you have parents.  Jason’s mom had worked for United Airlines for almost 30 years, so he was able to use a family pass to make the transatlantic flight.  I had to ask my mom for the cash but, having had her own adventures in her 20s, she happily sent me a check.

Since Jason was flying on a pass part of the way and I had tickets, we had to come up with some tricky coordination to find us the best (inexpensive for me) and direct flight (to make sure Jason didn’t get bumped) to Greece.  Back then – almost 20 years ago – purchasing airfare online didn’t exist. I remember Jason and I going to a travel agency in El Segundo to buy the tickets; but we were extremely excited for our trip even though it was several months away.
In preparation, Jason suggested we watch the movie Summer Lovers.  The movie – which stars Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah and Valerie Quennessen – is about a couple who, upon college graduation, vacation on the Greek Island of Santorini. 

While there, the couple gets caught up in the uninhibited energy of the island and Michael (Peter Gallagher) decides he wants to sleep with Lina (Daryl Hannah).  Michael’s girlfriend Cathy (Valerie Quennessen) decides to retaliate by cheating on Michael but she chickens out.  Then Michael admits he doesn’t want to break up with Cathy just have his cake and eat it too.
Cathy seeks out Lina to discuss this unfortunate turn of events in her relationship and they hit it off.  Just when you think it is about to turn into soft-porn, Cathy and Lina become good (platonic) friends but share Michael.

The plotline of the movie did not excite me as much as seeing the beautiful and intriguing landscape of Santorini and knowing that I would be there in six months’ time.
It seemed like forever, but August finally arrived. Jason and I – each with one back-pack – which would prove to be the hardest pack of my entire life.  How does a clothes horse like myself fit a month’s worth of clothes in one measly backpack? It was hard, but I finally did it and we boarded our plane.

Jason’s mom had mentioned our trip to her friend – America (yes, that really was her name), a senior flight attendant – who upgraded us to first class; Not business class, but actually first class. 
I am embarrassed to admit that I had never flown First Class before and it was better than anything I could have imagined.  I had a champagne buzz before the flight even took off and, when they served our first course, I thought it was the main course, and Jason still teases me over my naiveté.

Somewhere along the way, the memo seemed to have gotten confused because everyone assumed that Jason and I were on our honeymoon.  We did not correct them and certainly did not complain as a bottle of Dom Perignon was thrust into our hands as we disembarked the plane.
We had a pretty long layover in London at Heathrow Airport.  Since Jason and I had only been together a little more than a year, we shared the expenses of our trip 50-50.  So, while at the airport, we needed to exchange our money.

When the women in the currency exchange booth asked me what money I wanted to convert my American dollars to – to my horror, my  most ignorant quote of the trip slipped through my lips, “Whatever money you people use here.”
I wish I had had a million Euro for the look on that woman’s face. Well, if Jason could love me after that comment, I was one lucky girl.

After a few hours, we boarded our second flight of the trip – on Olympic Air – from London to Athens.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in First Class Kansas anymore.

At the time, Olympic Air, which is now Olympic Airlines, was a government run airline.  Our trip entailed being stuck in the smoking section of the plane while rude flight attendants spilled hot coffee on passengers and dared you to complain as they gave you the evil eye.
We made it to Athen’s alive without any Greek voodoo put on us.  Then, we climbed into our prop plane that would take us to the far reaches of Santorini, our first destination.

When we got out of the small airport where goats and chickens wandered outside, I kid you not, we were bombarded by locals who tried to get us to come stay in their hotels or use their taxi service.  It still strikes me at how intrusive these men were, but that is how business is done on those tiny islands.  When you have a family to feed, you have to be aggressive.
It had been a long journey and we were so tired.  But we finally agreed to stay at one hotel – yes the price is negotiated right there on spot, sight unseen – but just a bed to lay our heads at that point was all we cared about.

About an hour later, we entered our super clean and brand-new room.  The owner had just built the establishment, which was purportedly on the water.  It was dark and we were tired, so we crashed right away.
We awoke the next morning and were pleasantly surprised to be located right on the water. To me, it seemed just like Mexico.  I was actually annoyed when Jason said we were packing up and going to a new hotel.  I was very happy – and still a little tired – so I wanted to just stay put for a bit.  But Jason said he knew what he was doing.

So we told the owner of the establishment that we would need a ride into town as we had bartered into our price from the night before. 
However, when he realized that we were checking out, annoyed doesn’t even cover it.  The owner of the hotel refused to give us a ride anywhere.  As I said, our hotel was new and on the beach; far away from anything and everything else.

So, Jason and I picked up our backpacks and began the purpose of our trip -- and hiked to the nearest bus stop.  I couldn’t believe how rude these guys were.  But, once we made it to Fira – the city center – I know why they didn’t want us to leave. 

Tracy sitting at dinner on Santorini
Fira is built high upon the cliffs of a volcanic caldera overlooking the Aegean Sea and is one of the most beautiful places on planet earth.  Cruise ships looked like little toys as the sun dazzled down on them. I love Mexico, but there was nothing Mexican about this view or the town.  It was amazing.

A room with a view

We found a hotel built into the side of cliff and from our balcony we experienced the most spectacular sunsets that I still have ever seen.  In the morning, we would throw open our window and look at the ships and boats bobbing on the sparkling sea.  Jason would proclaim, “It happened again, another day in paradise.”

Our favorite restaurant on Santorini
Fira had the best restaurants, exclusives night clubs and beautiful beaches.  Our week spent on Santorini were some of the best days of my life. 

And, as if it couldn’t get any better, while walking down the cobblestone streets of Fira one night, Jason said he thought he saw someone he knew.  He yelled, “Bill,” and the gentleman turned around. 

Bill and Shirley, Jason’s parents' best friends, just happened to be on the same Greek Island as us.  We spent the next two days with them and enjoyed a gourmet dinner and wine on the balcony of their hotel. (Which was a five star and sophisticated property.)
Once we parted ways with Bill and Shirley, we only had a few more days left on Santorini. 

We rented a motor bike and cruised the whole island, which was 28 square miles.  One day, we could have sworn that our original inn keeper had tried to run us off the road, but possibly we were just being paranoid.  I just felt lucky to avoid a crash and any road rash, which was definitely prominent among the other tourists -- especially the Americans.

After a week, Jason and I boarded a ferry and were on our way to our next destination, his beloved island of Ios.

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow...


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