Thursday, June 13, 2013

Every Mile a Memory ( Part 12 ) I Left my heart in SANTORINI


( courtesy of google images )

It was another bright sunny day as we sail up to the island, there in front of us are the spectacular cliffs of Santorini, rising from the great half moon caldera. Santorini in Greece used to only be a volcano, but is now the most visited Greek island.

The photo below is the volcano island in the middle of the caldera. The definition of " caldera " -- is a large crater formed by volcanic explosion or by collapse of a volcanic cone.

The unique Greek island of Santorini ( officially called THIRA ) is all about colour and contrast. Everything seems painted white-- buildings, pavements, stones, even the tree trunks. Around midday the sky loses its dazzling blue and joins the whiteness above the hazy islands. Then there’s blue sea, blue paint, black sand and red rock. It was more gorgeous than I ever imagined.  None of the pictures I had seen showed just how high up it was! We were told we could ride a donkey up, or climb 600 steps that have been built which will allow you to gradually walk all the way to the top,  or take the cable car.

Greek is the main language spoken in Santorini. Although, English is well spoken by the friendly locals within the tourist areas. The form of currency used is in Euros amongst the American dollar in various areas. Just be mindful of the exchange rates. Temperature wise the best months to visit Santorini would be April thru June.

My first surprise came as we cruised into the bay and saw that the village was actually hundreds of meters up a cliff above sea level. As our ship maneuvered to drop anchor at Santorini, I got my first glimpse of the island’s iconic steep cliffs. Though I may have glimpsed what towered above me at that point, my attention was actually focused downward, as I contemplated the fact that we had just sailed into a giant, submerged volcanic crater. Santorini is what remains from an enormous volcanic eruption more than 3,000 years ago, and we were anchoring in the deep lagoon formed when the crater of the volcano collapsed. I wondered, if this caldera could really be the site of the Lost City of Atlantis, the legendary civilization that sunk to the bottom of the sea. With my attention now back on the island’s 300-meter high cliffs, I could see our destination, the town of Thira, perched high on the rim above. 

Santorini was the port Lulu and I were excited to explore on this entire cruise. We wanted to visit Santorini which boasts a population of 12,000 inhabitants. Finally our dream was becoming a reality. Santorini, is an island in the southern Aegean Sea. It is the largest island of a small, archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera.  For many it is the most enchanting of the Greek Islands -- for most travelers who have visited Santorini,  it has become a favorite across the entire planet. One of the best places in this island is the village of Oia ( pronounced EE-Yah ).

As soon as we got our tickets for the shore excursion to Santorini, we proceeded to the gangway to ride the skuna (  these are small local boats that are used as tenders ) to take us to the shore. The first ones loaded on the skunas were people who have shore excursions. For those who did not take any shore excursions,  they will have to wait until the ship moves to another location which was nearer Fira, drops anchor again, and then take the skuna to the little port of Fira. From there, you can take the cable car ( it costs 4 euros one way ) up the hill to Fira, which is the biggest town on Santorini.

By 9:00am we were in a tender and cruised the 10-minute ride over to the dock at the base of the village.

Upon arriving the port we were met by our tour guide and we boarded our bus.  The shore excursions were pretty well organized in terms of shuttling off hundreds of people onto different tender boats and buses. We drove along hairpin turns up the cliffs to the top of the island.

Our first stop in the island of Santorini was Profitis Ilias.  This is the highest spot of the island which is located between Pyrgos and Kamari. The Mountain's name is Profitis Ilias ( Prophet Elijah ), coming from the Monastery with the same name on its peak. From this vantage point, you will enjoy a panoramic view of the entire island, from the patchwork agricultural plains to the hilltop village of Oia.

Then we visited the Orthodox Metropolitan Church in Fira. The church was built in 1827.  It was a beautiful cathedral with a nice mosaic on the outside and an impressive bell tower. Inside the church is adorned with beautiful frescoes made by Christoforos Asimis.

Our bus ride to Oia was comfortable, passing one slideshow of scenic cliffside panorama after another. The bus route goes through the road on the non-caldera side of the island with farms blanketing the foothills down below. Vacation villas and houses dotted the rolling hills and cliff sides. There are so many nooks and crannies, along with vistas from every turn. The white buildings seem to be electric against the occasional bloom of neon pink flowers.

On the island of Santorini, man and nature live in harmony. Born from the fires of a volcano, today it is a land of sea and wind with picture-postcard villages dotted on its rocky cliffs. According to our tour guide, during summer, ferries and cruise-ships bring hordes of tourists who head for the cable car, donkey taxi or on foot from the port to the center of Fira, in search of the most photogenic spots, hoping to capture and carry away on film a fragment of the island's beauty.

The bus stop at Oia was lined with stores and kiosks selling tourist trinkets, t-shirts and other resort wear, and various knickknacks. We followed the throng of tourists toward the village square in front of the Church of Panagia which has the classic Greek Isle architecture: white-washed walls, a blue dome, and cast-iron bells.

Oia is situated atop an impressive cliff with more views of the sparkling expanse of sea, and the charming village is made up of traditional white houses and blue domed churches, with the narrow streets between buildings just wide enough for pedestrians and the occasional passing donkey. This is the main attraction on Santorini and the beautiful white houses you see on all the photos are from here. We discovered that many artists have made this picturesque setting their home.

This village, the most photographed in the Aegean, definitely lives up to its reputation as one of the most picturesque spots in the world. The whitewashed buildings with blue accents, the blue domed churches and the stunning views of the Aegean Sea beg to be photographed as visitors stroll the streets of the village. We walked around the small village of Oia. They have great ( but expensive ) restaurants here and it’s a popular place to watch the sunset from as it sets right over the town. Everything in Oia seems perfectly in place.

The Oia walkway is a narrow street on the edge of the village and lined with restaurants, tavernas, and shops selling everything under the Mediterranean sun. On the caldera side of the walkway, hotels and whitewashed villas cascade in picturesque terraces down the cliffside in so many levels. On the cliffside, the view of classic Oia is utterly stunning. The interior side offers glimpses of the real village of Oia.

After wandering around taking endless photos for an hour, we found a small taverna with rooftop dining affording a fabulous view of the caldera and the 4 cruise ships that were visiting the island that day.  After having lunch, we took time to wander the narrow alleys and shopped a little more but realized that the cable car line was growing by the millisecond.

We decided that it was time to start making our way back to the ship. Again, there was a huge queue for the cable car and we were not feeling brave enough to ride one of those crazy donkeys down the path. When we got into the line, we didn't realize exactly how long it was. At least the people in line tried to remain in good spirits.  Most of them were from our cruise ship. The cable car ride itself takes only five minutes, but the lines can be quite long. Allow yourself some extra time.

If you’d rather walk, follow the path connecting Thira to the port downhill. It takes approximately 40 minutes, and you will have to share the narrow path with the donkeys. You can ride a donkey back too.
If you are on tour, the guides will give you a cable car ticket that you can also use for the donkey ride, but the donkey owners will expect a tip.

The old port of Fira originally could only be reached by the long winding set of steps down from Thira. The locals came up with an easy way for seafarers to go up to the town of Fira -- using donkeys to carry people up and down. This was where we were going to ride our skuna back to our ship.

We loved Santorini especially the Oia village and anyone heading through the Greek isles would be mad not to stop in this special place. Santorini is famous for its cliff side homes painted blazing white with deep blue roofs. They are symbolic of Greece. If you are looking for a romantic getaway, this is the place. The island is dramatically spectacular - high black cliffs overlooking the remains of a vast volcano contrast with the deep blue sea, turquoise shores and endless blue skies. They're dotted with glistening white villages and domed rooftops.  Santorini is just incredibly beautiful, gorgeous and romantic!! I immediately fell in love with it!!! Out of all the islands in Greece that I've been to, I would have to say that Santorini is the most beautiful. Take lots of photos. Santorini feels like no other place on earth. If you ever plan on going to Greece, make sure Santorini is on your list.

 Santorini is a magical place! It should definitely be on a travel bucket list......


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