My close friends know that I’m a sucker for bakeries. They are like magnets to me. I stay away from them here in Denver, but when I’m on the road I freely give in and stop at any bakery I may encounter. I feel it’s my duty as a traveler to experience as many local treats as possible. And there is no better way to get to know a place.
I’ve tasted chocolate eclairs at French patisseries, savored meat pies across Australia and drooled over pistachio baklava in Turkey. But the most fun I’ve ever had was at Bakery Boras on the Greek island of Santorini in the southern Aegean Sea.
In the spring of 2012 I was island hopping from Turkey to the Greek mainland and landed in Santorini. Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption. The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history which occurred some 3600 years ago. A giant central, rectangular lagoon is surrounded by 1000 foot high cliffs on three sides. The capital, Fira, clings to the top of the cliff looking down on the lagoon.
Some people fly to Santorini, others take the regular ferry or the high-speed hydrofoil. The best way to experience the volcanic caldera and lagoon is to arrive by slow ferry during the day. I was originally scheduled to arrive at 1 a.m. on the overnight ferry from the island of Kos. But Neptune had other ideas. His tempest, which wreaked havoc on the ferry schedule, delayed my arrival until the next afternoon. Winds of fortune perhaps.
The slow cruise into the horse-shaped lagoon was mesmerizing. I was glad to be on the slow ferry during the day. It seemed like all the passengers were on the outer decks, pointing and taking photographs. The famous white-washed towns hugged the rugged rim of the caldera high above the Mediterranean. Buses (or donkeys) pick you up at the dock for the short but steep ride to the top.
Instead of directly heading into main town of Fira from the bus stop, I needed to check into my guesthouse in the village of Karterados, a 15 minute walk away. It was approaching late afternoon and I was getting hungry having skipped lunch. However, as I walked through Karterados I noticed most restaurants were closed until later for dinner. Most eateries close between lunch and dinner. But I did notice a bakery to my left that was open. As I rounded a turn the view opened up to a beautiful vista of pastel colored churches and wide open spaces.
A few minutes later I found my guest house, Caveland. A converted winery, it’s now a very welcoming place to stay. I found it to be pleasant and peaceful with only a few guests. The collapse of the Greek economy was scaring tourists away. An unfortunate situation for businesses but beneficial to the traveler. Travel writers say the best time to visit a place is when times are tough – fewer crowds and lower prices. And that’s exactly what I was finding here. The guest house manager was a delightful lady and very friendly. We chatted for a while in the nicely furnished and comfortable “office.” More like a friend’s living room than a reception area. The former winery retained its old and rustic character. The courtyard called out to you to sit and relax. If you weren’t careful you might never get up.
I stashed my pack in my room. A cool spot; literally and figuratively since it was in one of the caves dug into the volcanic pumice used by the 18th century winery. The island of Santorini has a long standing tradition in cultivating wine and this was one of the many places used for making and storing it. Locals simply used to dig their houses – the caves (grotto) – into the 3600 year old volcanic pumice. I was really getting hungry now so I decided to walk back to Fira. I never made it. Walking back through Karterados a voice called to me from the bakery I had seen earlier. I mean a real voice – that of the owner. Normally when someone calls out to me to enter their shop I usually keep walking because I know they want to sell me something (to many carpet shop nightmares). But this was a bakery! Of course I had to stop and enter Bakery Boras.
When I entered Bakery Boras I would not have guessed that this would become one of the most memorable encounters of all the places I’ve traveled. Mike the owner invites me in. He’s a friendly and gregarious guy. Sitting at one of the tables is his friend George. Mike knows a little English but George has lived and worked in the States for 45 years and his English is excellent. Mike’s wife and daughter were also here. We begin to talk about Santorini, Greece and my trip. George translates for me and Mike when we both stumble on our Greek and English. I tell Mike and George I was looking for a place to eat. Of course they tell me there is no need to travel further. Boy are they right. Mike grabs me a beer and takes me over to the bakery case. The case is full of mouth-watering baked goods and cookies. All baked by Mike and his family. He pulls out a square of pizza and some spanakopita. We sit again and continue to talk and laugh while I savor my unexpected dinner over cold Greek beer and lively conversation. On the walls are photographs of Mike and his friends. I can tell he values his family and friends. When someone comes into the bakery he introduces me and tells them I’m from America. When I finish eating Mike jumps up to grab some cookies off of the counter. He must have seen me eying them earlier. Of course they are delicious like everything else. It’s starting to get a little late and I tell them I need to head back to my guest house. I had taken a few photographs earlier and Mike wants me to send him copies so he can add them to the photos on the wall. I suggest I email them to him. He gets very excited and proceeds to call his son Markos on the phone. Markos asks me to stop in the bakery tomorrow morning so we can trade emails. I agree and take my leave of my new friends. But before I leave Mike insists that I take a loaf of bread. I can’t think of a better place to spend the evening than at Bakery Boras. But that wasn’t the end.
I planned to get up early to walk into Fira to catch the bus to Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement. I had plenty of time to stop by the bakery and see Markos. When I arrived at Bakery Boras on that sunny morning the bakery was already busy with Markos’ customers/friends. I was warmly welcomed by Markos. He insisted I sit down and have a cup of Greek coffee and breakfast. Needless to say I didn’t refuse. He introduced me to his friends. We all talked about my travels, the U.S. and whats been happening in Greece. Mike arrived a little later. I got a tour of the baking room and ovens where all the delicacies were created. I was honored. We traded emails and then I headed to Fira to catch the bus to Akrotiri.
I was fortunate to arrive when I did on Santorini. The ruins at Akrotiri had just reopened a week earlier. It had been closed for seven years after the roof collapsed killing a tourist. The original settlement was destroyed and buried in volcanic ash in the eruption that created the Santorini caldera and as a result, like the Roman ruins of Pompeii after it, it is remarkably well preserved. Frescoes, pottery, furniture, and three-story buildings have been discovered at the site. The settlement has been suggested as a possible inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis.
After my visit at Akrotiri I stopped at a travel agency in Fira to get my ferry ticket to Crete for the next day. The agent informed that because of the storm the ferry schedules were still in flux and that the next slow ferry wouldn’t depart for two more days. Neptune was still on my heels. Even though my traveling schedule is pretty flexible I decided not to spend the extra days on Santorini since I had lost a day already due to the weather. I decided to catch the hydrofoil to Crete leaving that afternoon. I hurried back to Caveland to pack. On my way to catch the bus to take me to the ferry dock, I of course stopped at the bakery to say my goodbyes. I stayed as long as I could talking to Markos but unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time. I bought one last loaf of bread and walked up the road towards Fira.
For the most part it seems like events generally work out pretty well for me when I’m on the road. Over the years while traveling I’ve learned that if I keep an open mind, live in the moment and just let things happen, memorable, interesting and fun encounters can come your way. Here’s to Mike, his family and friends and Bakery Boras.