Santorini donkeys. They’re not really donkeys, you know: they’re mostly mules (it's the ears and tails that are the giveaway). Not that anybody really cares – except me, who was actually quite relieved to be spared the guilt of making a cute little donkey all sweaty and puffed, its neck bell jingling as it hauled me up the 16 cobbled zigzags of 588 steps from Fila’s Old Port back to the town on the top of the cliff. (I was, nevertheless, somewhat miffed that the Japanese couple who rocked up to the donkey guy at the same time got put on real donkeys. I thought I was pretty much the same size as them, but that’s reverse body dysmorphia for you…)
So yes, here I am in Santorini, beloved of Instagram – and that’s actually why I’ve come, beaten into submission by repeated daily photos of bright blue domes on gleaming white churches against a brilliant sea, or cliché sunset, or – actually, that’s your only choice. But no-one’s complaining, least of all me. It looked glamorous right from the start, seen through the water-splashed windows of the catamaran that takes 5 and a bit hours to get here from Piraeus. I would say that the clustered white houses along the top of the layered cliffs, spilling down to the water here and there, look like crusted snow, but I see Lonely Planet’s already used that simile, so… splashed guano? Hmm. More work needed on that one.
It’s self-consciously beautiful here, but that’s ok. It’s what we’ve come for, after all: 2 million of us, over a year, overwhelming a local population of 15,000. In the summer, there are occasionally 12-15 cruise ships moored in the caldera, which must be horrendous. It was busy enough today, with just three. Of course we scoffed at them, herded around in groups behind signs, rushing to catch the last tender back to their ship. Sheep!
We wandered the narrow cobbled lanes, blinked at all the white paint, admired the skyline, the flowers, the inviting bars and restaurants, the cats; and ate moussaka on a restaurant terrace with a multi-national clientèle. Then we went back to our lovely hotel, dug into the cliff on the quiet side of town, with a perfectly-placed white chapel dome on one side of the caldera view, balanced by the little town of Oia on the other, where most of the Instagram photos are taken. Watch this space.