Not much, other than the requisite absence of clothing. I experienced both, less than 24 hours hours apart. You may already know about the hamam. But I didn’t know when I partook that I’d be in a conceptually similar but worlds apart scene the following day.
Holly had divulged months earlier that she wanted to treat me to a surprise on the trip as as a thank you for the planning work I did. To me that seems kind of like thanking me for playing with my dog — I enjoy it. But who’s going to turn down a surprise treat? Not I!
All I knew was it would take place on our Santorini day during the cruise. I later learned we were appointed to be *there* at 9:30. This meant we arose especially early and rushed with our husbands to wait at the front of the line for tender tickets to get to shore. We’d heard horror stories about the line for the funicular at Santorini and with several cruise ships at the island that day we knew we had to be early. I sternly directed late arrivals to the back of the line when they arrived and nonchalantly lingered at the front of the line with us hard-core hour-early waiters.
It paid off when we hurled ourselves, breathless from the triumphant rush down flights of stairs, into the first tender boat. We fancied ourselves on the Amazing Race as we dashed to the funicular ticket office and took the front cabin in order to be the first off at the top. The payoff for all the rushing was a stroll through the town of Fira without another tourist in sight. I imagine we were the only four non-locals out of the thousands that day to enjoy the serene shaded cobblestone streets and alleys of this blue and white dream village in absolute peace.
We sent our husbands off on a local bus for their own day of exploration (not without misgivings on my part that they’d miss the ship without their trusty tour leader – me). We boarded on our own bus for the nearby village of Oia and spent the half hour ride smoke-filled ride gazing out the window at the dramatic countryside plunging down to the sea below (an unobstructed view thanks to the lack of guardrails along the switchback our bus crept along).
We arrived in Oia with some time to spare and a serious drive for some caffeine on my part. We sat outside and sipped our cappucinos with a friendly local pup, watching in dismay as a cruise ship group marched across the square we sat in.
It was 9:25, time to go. Holly led us down a couple winding lanes and then stopped. “We’re here! This is it!” she announced, giggling. What does one say upon learning their day will be spent in luxurious pampering courtesy of a friend? I have no idea — I probably said something entirely inadequate to express my gratitude.
We were greeted by the Romanian lady in charge (see, this is why I should write things down sooner — her name has already been lost in the million other details of the trip), seated at the pool and served honest-to-goodness iced tea — a sweet fruity tea, garnished with fruit. Though it was only 9:30, the sun was well on its way to its full Mediterranean summer blaze and the tea was a perfect antidote the the heat. We also received a platter of assorted crackers, breads, jams and butter to nibble on while we waited “five minutes” as the lady continually returned to say.
There was discussion about what order to take the treatments in — do you wish to do the Cleopatra bath at the beginning or the end? The list of treatments I’d be taking overwhelmed me, as did Holly’s munificence in this over-the-top surprise. Still feeling a little stunned at the revelation that I’d be spending half the day being pampered, I waved goodbye to Holly and followed my attendant into a candle-lit little room. Holly would be taking her treatments in another area of the spa.
Here I thanked the stars I had crossed the nakedness barrier the day before because I learned I was meant to strip and don a paper disposable thong (!) for my first treatment, a salt scrub. Feeling surprisingly less awkward than I would have had I known in advance, I stood in my paper one-size-fits-all undies and allowed a young Australian woman to scrub my skin with salts, removing any dead skin my Turkish bath hadn’t absolved yesterday.
I showered then with hot water only in the next room and returned for the next phase. For this I positioned myself on the massage bed face down and received a rub down with aromatherapy oils. Her strong hands kneaded my already-tired from the travels muscles and I relaxed into the bed.
Next I learned about the volcanic mud and the detoxifying effect it would have, and lay as a canvas while she painted me with the slightly smelly mud. Once I was thoroughly brown, she wrapped me in plastic, covered me with a warm blanket and left me to marinate for ten minutes. It seemed only a couple minutes passed when she returned and sent me for another shower. Removing the mud was a little harder than the salt.
Now it was time for the star of the show — the hour-long massage. For as slim as this girl was, she was amazingly strong. I blissfully let her dissolve the weariness and aches from all my muscles and barely noticed when she draped another blanket over me and left the room again. I didn’t sleep, exactly, but I found that when she returned I wasn’t quite sure where I was.
She helped me slip on a robe — I was happily limp-limbed — and walked with me to the Cleopatra bath. Candles glimmered around the small room and a steaming frangrant bathtub waited in an alcove. The hot water was infused with honey and salt and I climbed gingerly in. The combination of the massage and the heat nearly overcame me though, and before long, fighting dizziness, I climbed out and went to lay lizard-like in the sun by the pool.
I could have happily lain there all day but Holly soon emerged from her room and we compared notes while we waited for our spa lunch. Spa lunch indeed! I’ve never been to a spa but I pictured lettuce leaves and sprouts. Not in Santorini! Out came four platters — one bearing salmon and rice, another grilled portabello mushrooms, the third an enormous salad studded with olives and sun dried tomatoes, and the fourth stuffed roasted peppers. Holly valiantly took on the mushrooms and peppers as I am allergic to the first and despise the second and we knew we couldn’t be rude and leave large quantities of the mammoth lunch. There was easily enough food for four. We ate, drank more of the tea and marveled at the simple fact of sitting under the Greek blue sky.
Neither of us wanted to leave and join what we knew by now would be hordes of tourists. Eventually we roused ourselves though, from our splendid repose and left the tranquil spa.
This rest and pampering fit the bill beautifully midway through this first intense leg of the trip and I’m still somewhat awestruck at my friend’s kindness and generosity in treating me to such a gift. For the second day in a row, I’m pretty sure no one else on our ship experienced what we did!
So Holly, efcharisto, tesekkürler and grazie mille!