Greece - Santorini

Touring the Greek Islands: Santorini

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    In 2001 we led a tour of the Greek Islands and Turkey

  • 7 Sep Friday Athens to Santorini We needed to be up by 5:30, so the hotel let us into the dining room early for cakes, simit (the Middle East's pretzel/bagel) and coffee. At 6:15 we had a transfer to Piraeus and found the 7:30 ferry to Santorini. The docks make the Washington state ferry system seem puny. There were ferries docked for a mile or more -- large multidecked ships, fast catamarans, and slower hulking ones. Taxis everywhere letting out passengers.

    We board, and take our assigned seats. Nice interior, comfortable seats. Polished wood floors. Snack bars, reasonably priced. Once boat is underway, no one is allowed to stand outside, though (too much spray). Leaving on time, we come into Signos harbor about 10:15, just time to get a coupla pictures, then on to Santorini. First views of Santorini look like the caldera is snow capped, then the white resolves into houses and hotels cascading down the brown volcanic slopes. Unload about 11:45, met by Fantasy Travel and bussed up the switch backing road to Volcano View Villas/Hotel. Beautifully sited, all rooms look out into the caldera and spread across the hill with 3 swimming pools spaced among them. We're about 1.8 km from Fira town, with intermittent shuttle service, so we decide to walk into town -very hot, with a bit of wind; shoulderless road with moderately heavy traffic, not a pleasant walk, but splendid views to the north, of the thin island and other Cyclades in the distance.

    In town, we found a nice cafe overlooking the caldera, for a long delayed lunch. Baba ganoush, fava beans, tomato salad, excellent calamari, Mythos beer. $12/person. Audrey had a nice white Kolfini wine (slight resin taste). Fira is quintessential tourista -everything is set up to greet the hordes who make it up from docking cruise ships by cable car, donkey or foot. The town is splayed across the fringe and interior of the caldera, enticing browsers with jewelry, other crafts or tavernas and cafes.

    We wandered through town afterwards -overly touristy, lots of splashy, expensive jewelry shops and pottery places -narrow winding streets, with whitewashed bldgs. At end of the town, we stopped for an exhibition of reproductions of Thera wall paintings from Akrotiri, ca 1500 BC. Ships, fishing boy, saffron gatherers, mostly frescoed. Then down to the taxi stand' to try to grab a cab. No real organization, just flag down anything taxi-like with a spare seat, and if the driver is going in your direction you can get in

    Dinner at hotel.After the enthusiastic description by the waiter, 3 of us had the special -pork filet with charcuterie sauce & potatoes noisettes. $8 each. l of house wine.

    Sep 8 Saturday Santorini Good breakfast on the patio overlooking the caldera. Cool, light breeze, very pleasant after yesterday's heat and wind. Found out we have another full day here, ferry not leaving til 7 pm tomorrow (only 1 sailing on Sunday).

    About 9:30 took taxi to Akrotiri (3500 dks). Entered the site; at the ticket office, people behind the desk, but sign says Free today / On strike . Akrotiri was a Minoan colony. Tunnels thru the volcanic ash first discovered buildings that had been thru both earthquake and the volcanic eruption. Impressive ruins, protected by large metal open-air roof system. Wander thru site on boardwalks, amid extensive reconstructions of the town walls, buildings, etc. Much of the site was familiar after having seen the fresco exhibit yesterday. Even more impressive when considered that the site is over 3500 years old.

    Went down to the beach, first a black sand beach, then up and over a headland, to see the Red Beach', large cliffs of rhyloite like materials eroding into the cove. Shore covered with seaweed that when dried has the look and consistency of wood shavings. At the refreshment area, met Spyros Arvaniths -shopkeeper,cave builder and wine maker. We sample his wine, a sherry like brew, then bought a bottle for later happy hour. Caught the island bus back to Fira (400 dks each, half hourly). Lunch at same place as yesterday -pork souvlaki, Greek salad (this one actually had more than 2 olives in it!). Wandered around for a bit, then waited for the hotel shuttle 14:00, but we'd forgotten the actual schedule. Just after we gave up about 14:30, we got a taxi, and passed the shuttle coming in on its14:35 run. Back to the hotel for a relaxed afternoon of pool and sunbathing. The hotel has 5 or 6 pools scattered across the lower landings of the villas. Lamb chops for supper .

    Sep 9 Sunday Santorini to Crete Feast of Birth of Virgin Mary is supposedly a major event on Santorini, but none of the locals appear to have read the guidebooks, so it was a day like any other. Leisurely breakfast on terrace, watching boats sailing across the caldera; near flat calm, with long lasting wakes diagonally trailing the sailboats. Took taxi into Oia, easily the prettiest town on this scenic island. Narrow white streets stretched along the crest of the caldera, with hotels and homes tumbling down the steep side, providing wonderful views into the volcano and across to Thirassia.. Fewer tourists and correspondingly less glitzy and gaudy tourist shops. Many crafts shops, of higher standard than in Fira -puppets, wood carving, beautiful, individually designed gold and silver jewelry, amber shop (with crucifixes of amber -Jesus on a cross of fossil flies?) Pretty doorways, windows, with bright red hibiscus, blue morning glories, yellow santolini, contrast with the stark white walls and muted browns and ochres of the doors. Bright blue domes and bell arches set off frequent churches. Naval Museum -small, but interesting -models of triremes, other early ships, ship of the line, many tankers.

    At end of the island, the town rambles down to another tiny port, with a mule-walk down to the piers. A lone windmill revolves to the north, and the view from the bellevedere looks out to the volcano in the center of the caldera, and back along the entire concave crest of Santorini, with Fira and all the way out to Akrotiri and its lighthouse. A lazy dalmatian sprawls along a small wall, oblivious to tourists taking his portrait. We split, rejoined, then split again, spending time with a beer in the Papageno taverna; then found a less touristy place for lunch -the Thomas Grill -mostly locals, on a side street near the bus station. Tried to order Eggplant Imam, waiter came back, not today ; ordered Eggplant stuffed', waiter comes back more quickly - don't have any, come look at what we do have ; so, after a survey of the actual choices du jour, ended up with a fine moussaka, with thick bechamel topping. Audrey had squid -from bigger squid than we'd seen, but still tasty and tender. Shared a great Greek salad

    Waited at bus stop for almost an hour without seeing a taxi, then took the bus when it came, followed by taxi from Fira to hotel. Had time for a refreshing swim before transfer to the port. Driver just backed into a parking place at the end of the dock, unloaded our luggage & bid us goodbye. Chaos -people everywhere, lining up for multiple ferry arrivals, dozens of others filling the local cafes while waiting. Cars & taxis spitting out more people at random, trucks maneuvering, with a few police pretending to direct traffic. Had to ask several times to find, then confirm where to go for the Crete ferry; no signs or other details anywhere. Crowd grew impatient when a first ferry docked, disgorged, then immediately backed water and took off without loading anyone. But our boat, the Minoan Lines, El Greco, was just waiting its turn, and backed into the dock, tossed its mooring lines and dropped the ramp.

    Might as well have cried Havoc', cause the dogs were loose -any attempt at lines ceased to exist as everyone surged forward and up the bumpy ramps, wheeled luggage only a slight advantage. Once entering the maw of the ferry, the real journey began. I was directed up and onwards, and then down a long narrow corridor with cabins, all with closed doors. Emerging at the other end, there was no one to direct traffic, and I looked briefly into several smoke filled salons, already jammed with people, many sitting on the floors. (Turned out these were only for those with cabins). When I tried to go further I was turned back, since I had dared to press into first class territory; but no signs to indicate that. Told to go up, but no immediate way to do that, other than return the way I'd come. Finally found stairs up to another deck, only to find packed video game rooms and yet another pullman' salon just as crowded as the others. After asking several uninterested and unhelpful workers, I finally made my way out to the deck, to find the others who'd fought their way up from below without the trek thru cabin land. They'd checked their bags, hoping it would be possible to recover them in the crush of the anticipated disembarking procedure. All still a hurried jumble around us. Finally found a place on the top deck, under cover, and commandeered several movable plastic chairs, more comfortable than those bolted to the deck in sections. Things finally started to sort themselves out, we managed to have chosen a place with few smokers, and the boat pulled out just in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset over Therissa and the volcano islands.

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