2013: Entry 9: Santorini (Thira), Greece

Sunrise on Santorini

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A line of clouds in various shapes parade from left to right illuminated by the approaching dawn. Red bands of light gather on the horizon as the coal-black sky of night gives way to  pale blue.

Slowly the curtain lifts revealing more long, steel blue streaks rippling across the cobalt waters of the Aegean Sea. The hazy horizon shakes the night’s slumber and focuses on the start of a new day.

I find myself sitting in rapt anticipation wondering how and where the sun will poke out from the distant lands from which it has most recently departed.

And finally it arrives, cheerily casting forth its golden abundance which flashes like scattered coins tossed across the waters toward us. The sunlight colors the blue-domed churches, white-washed homes and the verdant trees below.

The last remaining clouds dissipate as the sun finally, fully rises like some jovial Santa announcing the end of the parade.

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I have heard about Santorini from people who have gone there, and put it high on my “to visit” list! And believe me, I was not disappointed! I had high expectations for the island, but it surpassed that and hovered in the realm of “magical” the entire time I was there.

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I boarded the 7:30 am ferry at Piraeus. As every day before it, it promised to be warm and sunny. We made the 8-hour trip  on a large ferry. There were three main areas. One was the economy section where you sit at cafe or booth tables or in chairs on the deck for the trip. There are also comfortable lounge chairs in this section if you are lucky enough to get one!  The other, was the “business” class. You are in a very cushy area in the front of the boat with access to nearly all the ship. There is also a section with small, private cabins. Food is available at several places aboard the boat.

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Naxos

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Naxos

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Ios

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Paros

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Ios

Our first stop was the island of Paros. The port is a pleasant, small town surrounded by rolling hills. A lot of people got off here, but an equal amount got on! The next stop was Naxos, which is a good size with a very interesting looking town. Definitely a place to go to next trip! I could almost imagine as if I were seeing it from land walking the green hills with amazing views of the sea. We then moved on to Ios, a small island with a small town nestled in a craggy harbor.

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(PHOTOS OF SANTORINI AFTER TEXT)

It was then a relatively short hop to Santorini. The Greeks call the island Thira. The name “Santorini” came from the Venetian traders who used to visit the island and attended the church there called “Saint Irene” (Santo Irene). This island was first settled by the Minoans in 1900 BC. They were forced to leave as the volcano began to erupt. When it finally did explode it created what scientists believe to have been one of the greatest volcanic explosions ever. It was so great that it left only three small islands, which had been a part of the volcano itself. The “caldera” (center of the volcano) was filled with water when most of the volcano itself was blown away. So catastrophic was this explosion that it is attributed to causing the decline of the Minoan civilization. It is also believed to be the origin of the story of Atlantis. There was another eruption in the 1950’s that totally destroyed the towns.  They rebuilt soon after creating these magical white-washed buildings. A small volcanic island emerged after an eruption in the 17th century. There are basically two main towns on the island: Fira, the largest and in the center of the crescent-moon shaped island, and Oia (pronounced “EE- ah”) on the northern tip. The  ferry from Athens arrives at the “new port” and you are transported to Fira by bus (2-3 euros) or taxi. You can also rent a car at one of the many car rental places near the docks. You then make your way up the side of the cliff via the serpentine two-lane road.  If you arrive by cruise ship, you arrive at the old port and make your way up by climbing the 525 steps, taking the cable car, or riding a donkey up to the top. There is also a small airport on the island. The towns are built along the rim of the old volcano. In the evening light, they appear to be a white froth cascading over the edge of a cup of cocoa. 

It is an added treat in that it is the end of the season, so there are relatively few people there! I can only imagine that it is a whole different scene and  atmosphere in the high months of July and August. The more-mellow feel is very relaxing, and just what I was looking for at the end of a month-long trip. I checked into the Anatoli Hotel and after a short orientation to the island by the owner, I was off in a flash to explore. As it was near sundown, I headed for the caldera to see the view. It was stunning! In the 5 days that I was there I never got jaded to the views and the effects that the sun played on the caldera and the towns. You quickly learn which areas are best served by morning, afternoon or evening light. One of the many interesting aspects of Santorini is that it has a desert climate! It does not rain, but when you go out in the early morning everything is covered by a layer of water from the condensation during the night! This is the way that Santorini’s flowers and fauna survive.

The second day, I was very lucky to be there for the “Day of No” parade. On that day in 1940, Greece said “no” to Mussolini who basically demanded that the Greeks surrender to him. It is now a national holiday. The parade was quaint and small-town terrific. The only marchers were the kids from the elementary and high schools. Some were dressed in native costumes. The Patriarch of Greece was also in attendance. First, there was a religious ceremony at the Greek Orthodox church and then the parade began. The viewers on the sidelines were equally as interesting as the kids in the parade! The elementary kids, especially the kindergarteners, stole the whole show! The music which was the ballads of the World War II era (think or Google Edith Piaf), was incredible. The whole afternoon, I was hiking all over the towns of Fira and neighboring Firostefani. There is a great hiking trail between the two towns that takes you along the rim of the caldera. Wonderful views all along the way! One of the locals told me that there are many jobs on the island due to the tourist trade, so few of the young leave to move elsewhere. There are many reasons why you would want to live here. It is an absolutely wonderful island! However, I’m sure the lure of Athens and the world beyond has its appeal to the youth none-the-less! Many of the residents go away at the end of the season. In fact, the owners of the Anatoli Hotel were planning just such a trip to live in Athens for a few months till after the New Year.

The bus trip between Fira and Oia takes about 20 minutes with a view to the eastern part of the island which slopes down to the Aegean Sea. You arrive in Oia’s town center, which consists of a few buildings and a small town square. I stopped off here to check in for the night in the “cave apartment” with caldera view I had reserved. When I first saw pictures of Santorini several years ago, I saw a picture of two blue-domed churches and a bell tower facing the blue waters of the caldera. I was determined to find that spot and take the picture myself. I was astonished as we approached the place I was to stay. That very picture had been taken from the small patio of my apartment! I had the view all the time I stayed there! Naturally, I took at least 50 pictures in various directions and times of the day!

I think I climbed every step in Oia! In the evening I sat on the patio looking out on the caldera. I couldn’t imagine a place left that I hadn’t photographed. That is until I saw the beginnings of what I knew would be an amazing sunset! I headed off, like everyone else in the town, for the tip. What followed was a firework display of nature! One woman I met has lived in Oia for 30 years and declared that it was one of the top 5 sunsets she had ever seen there!

The next morning, I just sat on the patio enjoying a “breakfast” of grapes, bananas, crackers and chocolate—- the remnants of whatever was in my knapsack! Such a great view—- couldn’t take myself away from it till 11:55— with 12 noon check-out! I knew then and there that, although I still had 4 days left in Greece, that this was truly the unofficial end of the whole trip.

In the afternoon, I headed back to Fira. After a quick lunch, I decided to spend the afternoon down at the steps photographing the donkeys and their drovers. Although I enjoyed this to no end, I could not help but feel sorry for the donkeys that travel from about 1/4 of the way down the stairs to the beach below- about 450 steps. Not only do they have to travel up and down the somewhat steep stairway, but they also have to endure the tourists riding them! Many of these people have never ridden before and end up getting overly nervous which adds to the strain on the donkeys. The donkeys often show their displeasure with long, shreaking brays.

In the morning of the last day, I visited the Thira Museum. It is quite small, but has a good representation of the Minoan artifacts found at Akrotiri, a small village at the southern tip that was the main settlement during the Minoan days. As with most sites in Greece, however, the best of the artifacts had been shipped off to the National Archeological Museum in Athens. I had a long lunch at Tabascos, the best of the more reasonably-priced restaurants that I found in the town. I enjoyed a nice lunch of papadellas. You are paying for the view when you dine at the restaurants overlooking the caldera. The one meal I had there cost me $28.00 for a chicken cutlet, small salad and some vegetables. The food wasn’t very good. It’s the view. It’s the view!

My good fortune continued as I got the 3:30 ferry back to Athens. The hotel owner had arranged a car to take me and two other guests to the ferry. Very thoughtful! I opted to get an upgrade to the business class section for the return trip.

The boat was due to leave at 3:30, but it arrived a little late, had to discharge its passengers, and the seemingly endless procession of trucks loaded with everything from food to fuel. It was a chaotic boarding as people gave up and hauled their luggage on to the boat sometimes with near-death experiences as there was no understanding or direction from the boat staff as to who or what had the right-of-way!  There were a lot of people on the boat as it was the last day of the season on Santorini. In the business class, however, there were only 10 of us! I claimed a big section at the front. And so we finally left, the boat passed Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia at the tip. A final, sad salute of the horn from the ferry as it rounded the tip and we were off. When the sun went down and Santorini was lost in the distance, I slept and read all the way back to Piraeus.

The last Metro train back to Athens from Piraeus is at midnight. The ferry managed to lumber into port at 11:55, and I made a mad dash to the Metro station across the street. The taxi drivers were telling me that it had left, but I have learned to be a little skeptical! Sure enough, probably realizing the boat was late arriving, the train was still there! I jumped on and 5 minutes later we were on our way to Athens. I had to get off at the Omonia station and walk the last 10 minutes back to the hotel. At 1 AM, however, that leaves you extra cautious! But I managed to make it safe and sound. It wasn’t long before I was asleep and ready for the last few days of the trip.

FIRA, SANTORINI

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Farewell, Santorini!

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6 Responses to 2013: Entry 9: Santorini (Thira), Greece

  1. Thanks for sharing my post!

    Like

  2. kathryn lustig says:

    Stunning pictures, Paul, and your usual wonderful writing along with!

    Kay

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  3. Pingback: 2013: Entry 10: Finale: Athens, Mycenae, and Delphi | The Wanderer's Tales

  4. Joan and Ria says:

    What a wonderful way to end your first retirement vacation! As always your diary takes us along ….like reading a great novel . Awaiting news from Thailand and wishing you, as always, a safe and fulfilling respite from the cold cold USA! Love Ria and Joan

    Like

  5. google.com says:

    Hi! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Keep up the great work!

    Like

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