Travel Tales Home Page

Previous Page      Eastern Europe Plus Home Page     Next Page

    
Island of Santorini, Greece
  

May 4  continued ...

The waters were calm and the ferry a pleasant and comfortable one with large windows and wide airline style seating. In each of the sitting areas tv shows were playing on overhead screens - soap operas, sports, action flicks.

A quick look back in time may explain the magnitude of what we were about to see. Around 1620 BC the earth literally shook with the worldís largest recorded volcanic explosion. A little island called Strangyli (Round One) changed dramatically. The sound travelled around the earth three times. A tsunami 23 metres high (December 2004's Thailand tsunami wave was approximately 3 metres high) wiped out nearby island civilizations. The centre of the round island was no more and the sea rushed into the caldera leaving an incomplete ring of an island ... the island we now know as Santorini.

From time to time the magna which remained in the bowels below the caldera, built up layer by layer forming two volcanic islands whose peaks are Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni.

Island of Santorini, Greece
Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

It was amazing that the ferry we were on did not list to one side as most on board were drawn to the awe inspiring sights as we entered the caldera and viewed Santoriniís white towns perched high above the water on dark undulating walls of rock reminiscent of white drip icing atop a dark rich bundt cake. We first passed the town of Oia known for its spectacular sunsets and a favourite for destination weddings. Then the ferry slipped past Fira (where we would be staying) and Old Port which is immediately below Fira on the waterís edge. We could see the zig-zag of the stairway joining the two.

Then it was on to Athinios where we disembarked having first passed the oil containment booms marking the spot where the Greek cruise ship recently sank.

Island of Santorini
Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

A crowd of touts waited at the portís exit gates. We thought that if we saw a tout for the place we were staying we might be able to catch a lift. Looking around for a sign for Loizos Apartments, we grinned when indeed we saw one and above the sign another saying "THORNE". Lefteris, one of the family owners, guided us to his van where we waited while he went back to see if he could attract any others.

During the thirty minute drive between the port and Fira, Lefteris pointed out different things along the way including some of Santoriniís many productive vineyards. Wine producing is the largest industry on the island next to tourism.

We settled into our room - a large space with two beds, a little sofa, fridge and a balcony looking out to the water on the other (non-caldera) side of the island. Wanting to set up our computer right away, we were disappointed to find their system too was "not working right now". Without hesitation we voiced our feelings explaining we had selected their accommodations because of internet access from the room. He told us of an internet cafť. We told him that would not do. He said he would try to find a solution.

In the meantime, we took a look around the neighbourhood and purchased some groceries for the little fridge from the nearby supermarket Lefteris had pointed out on our drive in.

The views of the caldera are absolutely amazing for their unique beauty and the spectacular way in which they were formed.

As arranged, at six oíclock we met with Lefteris again regarding the internet issue and he introduced us to his brother-in-law who owns "Aroma Suites" (a hotel overlooking the caldera) which provides WiFi for its guests. We followed the brother-in-law to his hotel. He showed us the different terraces. There was not any place for us to use indoors but he told us we were welcome to use the terraces and WiFi at anytime day or night. The sun was too bright to do any work, so we told him we would like to return later.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini
Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

Following some of the many laneways that worked themselves near the edge of the caldera in the tourist area, Sherrie spotted a place where she would like to have a drink and watch the sun go down. There are many, many restaurants with caldera views. At Francoís Terry explained, "We donít want to eat, just have a drink"

"Thatís good," said the friendly young waiter, "because we donít serve food ... just drinks."

The table Sherrie had spotted was on a little balcony jutting out from the rest. "May we have that table when they are through," she asked indicating the two photographers and model doing a shoot.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini - Model Jenna

"Oh, you can have it right now."

"No, we can wait."

One of the photographers overheard and said, "We are through over there. Please go ahead."

We passed the model who was posing on the staircase leading down. She was dressed in a long white bridal gown with a gold hooded cape around her head and shoulders. We took our seats, Sherrie waited patiently while Terry recovered from a lengthy coughing and spluttering bout after seeing the prices, ordered our Mohijto and wine and watched the progress of the shoot. We heard them speaking English. During a short break we asked the model, still standing on the staircase facing the setting sun, "Where are you from?"

Island of Santorini

"Canada."

"Where in Canada?"

"Winnipeg."

Jenna has been modelling in Europe for twelve years (she must have started out as a mere child model). She told us she often goes on location - she is currently headquartered in Athens but planning around year end to move on to Tokyo. We chatted while the cameras clicked. The hardest part of the job - finding and keeping a boyfriend. She also told us the photographer she was working with now (within ear shot of the lady with the camera), "Sheís the best in the business for wedding layouts."

We watched the sunset, and the photo shoot, drank our drinks and ate the delicious nut mix - Terry insisted we stay until every last gold plated nut was consumed. The shoot finished and Jenna turned and gave us a friendly wave goodbye before disappearing into the streets of Santorini which were now being lit by lights and candles.

Dinner was on our own balcony back at the room. Afterwards we returned to the terraces at Aroma to work on the internet but the wind coming up from the caldera made it uncomfortably cold to work for any length of time.

   

May 5

Although we had plenty in the fridge for breakfast and a pleasant spot to eat it, we went down to the breakfast room to see what Loizos Apartments had to offer (additional cost). A lady was dusting tables, there was nothing laid out on what might be a buffet table and there wasnít any indication of food preparation. Perhaps it was too early in the season. We enjoyed our breakfast on the balcony and arranged through the hotel to go on a Caldera/Volcano/Hot Springs tour.

Island of Santorini

The tour brochure said to be in Old Port at 10:00am. "Old Port" ... thatís the one at the bottom of the cliffs below Fira. There are three ways of getting from the top to the bottom ... and still be alive when you get there. The first is to walk down 589 steps ... not steps as in climbing from one floor of your house to another. These steps have spaces of slanted path between them; so "589 steps" is highly understated ... especially for those making their way up the hill.

The second way down is by mule. When Santorini was discovered by tourists, it was also discovered that many of them did not cherish the idea of climbing the hot rocky trail to the top in long dresses and dainty aristocratic shoes. A new industry was born. Mules and burros no longer just carried cargo. Their numbers increased to satisfy the growing number of visitors who desired to travel with less effort.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

Ocean liners, like floating villages, came to Santorini and the mules and burros could not keep up to demand. Santorini installed a cable car system. We could have used the cable car but instead choose the first option ... walking ... for our downward route.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

It took a good twenty minutes, including the time we had to stand against the wall to allow mules to pass either going up or going down; also at times when those going up were meeting those going down. On the switchback corners, this becomes difficult because both groups of four legged commuters want to use the wider steps on the outside (not stupid animals). The result is Santoriniís answer to the morning traffic jam. The only time the muleskinners had to get involved was when an animal going down got turned around during meetings with those going up and started to head up again. With a few words called out from the boss and a gentle tap of a long stick things get sorted out. Oh, we should mention; all this up and down is done with the mules and burros free of any tethers or leads.

Our boat waited at the bottom and close to schedule we were on the first part of our dayís tour. The boat sailed from Old Port to the uninhabited island of Nea Kameni.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

The first emergence of an island within the caldera was documented in 197 BC. Eight more eruptions have been documented since then with the last one in 1950.

All these eruptions were mild and did not cause serious problems for the islandís inhabitants (although a major earthquake in 1956 killed scores of people and destroyed most of the houses in Fira and Oia).

Our guide told us how her father, in 1950, liked to sit out at night, smoke his pipe and watch "the show". We left our boat in a cove and hiked past craters until we reached the highest one. The sun shone bright and hot and by the time we returned to the boat, the prospect of a swim sounded very good. For that the boat took us over to the smaller island of Palea Kameni. Water temperatures around this volcano reach thirty-five degrees Celsius.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini
Island of Santorini

A member of the crew placed a ladder at an opening in the boatís railing and our guide, standing at the top, asked who wanted to go first. Two people close to the opening said, "Not me." Sherrie stepped forward, "I will," and with an okay nod from the guide, dove into the green blue salty water. It was much colder than expected; or was it the difference between air and water temperatures which made it seem so. Either way, it was brisk and instantly refreshing. On second thought ... it was cold. The promise of hot springs set her off in the direction of the island. About thirty-five other people joined in the swim. Close to the warm spots Sherrie found she could stand up. "Oh, this is going to be easy. Just walk the rest of the way." Just then the wide rock surface below her feet ended. When indeed her feet hit the bottom it was into a soft mud like the soft flour feeling we had experienced in the travertines at Pamukkale. Some of the women were rubbing it on their faces. The water did get warmer but not the hot springs imagined from the build up. After swimming back to the boat, Sherrie had become comfortable with the waterís temperature and enjoyed the opportunity to bob in the salty waves.

With all swimmers back onboard, the next stop was Thirasia and lunch (not included in the price of the tour). Terry had chicken shish kabob (shish meaning on a stick). Sherrie had squid. (Should one experience Greece without experiencing their traditional dishes?) After lunch we strolled along the shoreline and enjoyed an ice cream cone while dangling our feet in the water. Thatís when we spotted an octopus - partly in and partly out of the water. He moved very quickly along the shoreline in pursuit of a crab. The octopus even turned over rocks to find his prey. It seemed the crab had made its escape by the concrete dock but we donít know the end of the story because when we left, the octopus was still waiting for the crab to make its next move.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini
Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

The octopus might like to do some hiding of itís own because a little farther down the beach we saw a fisherman washing and tenderizing another octopus. He rubbed it on a flat rock as though he was scrubbing dirty socks. He would then rinse it off in the water and again return to tenderize some more.

Once he was finished he walked it up the beach, perhaps to a restaurantís bar-b-que so another tourist could experience a traditional Greek dish.

Island of Santorini
Island of Santorini Island of Santorini Island of Santorini

From Thirasia, the boat took passengers to two different ports near Oia. One of the ports offers 300 steps to the top, while the other boasts only 250 or the option of riding a mule.

At Old Port below Firaís steps, we rented mules for the upward trek. It was fun. Perhaps not for the mule, but they didnít bock and made their way to near the top where we walked the last of the 589 steps.

Island of Santorini Island of Santorini
Island of Santorini

Just after sunset, we took the computer back over to Aromaís terraces but again the wind came up the caldera walls and made it too uncomfortable to do any more than necessary.

 

 

click here for May 6 and Crete ...

 

 

Previous Page      Eastern Europe Plus Home Page     Next Page

Travel Tales Home Page