Thursday, October 14, 2010

Santorini, Greece

Santorini at its finest, brightly colored buildings overlooking the caldera.

Before I started taking ferries in other countries, I thought all ferries were supposed be beat up, slightly rusty, behemoths of boats. My experience was based on taking ferries in Maine and Massachusetts. When I took my first ferry overseas from Tasmania to Melbourne, Australia, it was basically a cruise ship. You could even get a sleeper cabin. In Croatia, I took fast catamarns and larger versions of the boats that I took in the states. To get to Santorini, I was once again on one of these ferries that are basically converted cruise ships. I am still not sure if they are amazing or ridiculous. I love them.

The sunset reminded me of being on Semester at Sea.

When I went to book a ferry, I had five choices. I could take one of the four that left at 7:30am (that is not a typo) or take the 5:30pm one. Apparently, the ferries all take different routes, sometimes to the same places. Mine made two stops before I made it to Santorini. I could not sit still on the journey. I must have moved seats no less than thirty times. Sometimes I wanted food. Sometimes I wanted fresh air. One time, I was distracted by a BBC nature series. I eventually went into the hold to get my sleeping bag and then unrolled it up on deck and went to sleep under the stars. Unfortunately, I was woken up everytime the ferry pulled into port. Pulling into each port was interesting. Everyone lines up, the door is down before we even dock, and as soon as we touch, they are unloading. They reload and leave just as quickly. I would not want to be running late.

We were not at port yet, but everyone was lined up to get off the ferry.

I arrived at Santorini at 1am. There was camping just 10km away, but first I would need to climb an enormous hill in the dark. A hostel from the other side of the island, Perissa, was there to pick someone else up and had beds for seven euros. I went with the cheap easy option that did not have me biking at night. The hostel sucked, but it was easy. The best part was the three stray dogs that were hanging out there. One would curl on a folding chair to sleep. Another one hid behind the hostel wall and chased every car that went by. He got one to stop and the other two went to help him harass it.

I don't think this is vegetarian.

The dry caldrea towers over Perissa.

The next morning, I woke up early as usual. I went down to the 24 hour bakery that the drunk hostel folks told me about the night before. From there, I went down to the black sand beach for a stroll. Just a few meters out in the water, the sand gave way to smoothed lava. It was a weird sensation. When the hostel reception opened up, an incredibly friendly Greek girl helped me figure out what to do for the day and when to catch the next ferry.

A home on Santorini with those typical bright Mediterranean colors.

The southern part of the caldera.

My choices were to take an all day tour that went out to another island, swim in hot springs in the middle of the caldera, and explore the center of the old volcano or just bike myself around the island. I ended up taking her advice to bike myself around the island because I could do what I wanted for as long as I wanted. As for ferries, I could take an 8 hour overnight ferry or take one two days later that was 12 hours long or three nights later that was 17 hours long! I cannot believe how much variation there is. I also had no idea there were so few ferries. To keep with my schedule, I chose the ferry for that night which meant I only had one full day to explore Santorini.

The southwest end of the caldera.

Video panaroma of the Santorini caldera.

After a full day on Santorini, I'll say it is worth the hype. The island is a caldera, the rim of an old volcano. I guess technically, it is only half the rim. Another quarter of the rim is another island. The center cone of the volcano is also another island. The western facing side of Santorini encircles the cone island. On the east side of the island you can't see the caldera's form because you are down at sea level. My first glance suggested that it was just a dry island with a big mountain in the middle. Though, that same dryness grows some great grapes that they harvest for great wine. Of course, my first glance was wrong and when I finally climbed to the caldera rim and could see the form of the old volcano, I was amazed. The cute little towns made the perfect spots to sit and soak in the view.

Red beach.

The first thing I did after deciding how to spend my day was head for white and red beach. In Hawaii, the color named beaches did not disappoint me. I thought the same would work here. Unfortunately, Red Beach is named for the rock above it and is full of rentable foldout chairs. White beach is only accessible by boat and the water taxi wasn't running. However, the black beach I started the day with was still good. After a quick look around, I decided to spend my day lounging somewhere else.

Akrotiri Lighthouse.

I headed for the southwest end of the island where the lighthouse is. On the way there, I leap frogged an ATV about five times. The whole island is overrun by tourists on ATVs. This is a brilliant strategy. It keeps the tourists out of cars which saves gas. They go slower which is safer. The funny part about it is that there is actually no ATV terrain that they are allowed to use. It is all paved roads. They could use scooters, but you need a motorcycle license to ride those in Greece. You don't need any license to drive the ATV.

The east coast of Santorini.

Another caldrea view, looking towards the highest point on the island.

From the lighthouse, I headed towards the captial of Santorini, Fira. Fira is where the cruise ships take everyone and was a little bit too busy for me. Before I left, I got a falafel for lunch. On my way out of town, I wanted to see the water so I went up to where the shops were. They were narrow streets and I was told they did not have many stairs. That information was not correct. There were a lot of stairs that I got to walk my bike over. One of my favorite parts of the narrow streets is that the shop owners still sit outside their stores to talk, attract attention, slow down pedestrian traffic, or whatever else is they are are doing out there. One guy had two woman passing by who were stuck by my bike and the narrow streets. He started chatting them up as they peered into his window, but my bike was blocking his other store window. He grumpily told me to hurry up, but I couldn't because the very thing that was slowing them down, his chair in the way, also kept me in the way. I was amused.

A pottery shop that was a great example of a typical nicer building.

The capital of Santorini, Fira, sits right on the caldera's edge.

By this point, it was three or four in the afternoon. I was told that the place to be at sunset is Oia (pronounced Ia). I decided to get there early to look around. It is a brilliant little town, with tons of great restaurants, built into a hill side. I settled in to a restaurant with a great overlook of the caldera to finally get the smoothie I had been hunting for all day. The smoothie cost seven and a half euros. That is probably $10. I would say that it was mostly atmosphere that I was paying for and it was worth it. However, the smoothie was also incredible. It was the first great one I have had in Europe and I hope to figure out ratios of blueberry, blackberry, pineapple, and banana that made my mouth water so much when I get back home. Also of note, my priorities became pretty evident to me when I realized that I paid more for a smoothie than for a bed to sleep in.

The town of Oia.

The center of the old volcano.

After my smoothie, I explored town. It is beautiful and if I ever go back, that is probably where I will stay. They had the blue covered churches that you see pictures of. They had old windmills that I don't think they use anymore. They had terrace after terrace of ocean views. They didn't have streets. They had paths, but if they went to a single house or many other paths, I could never tell unless I walked it. I think I would get lost there in a hurry.

I believe this is a Byzantine church.

SO many people watch sunset under the old windmills.

Despite Oia's amazing layout and architecture, its claim to fame is sunset. I thought the sunset was going to light up the town in the golden hour, set over another island, or do something else special. The helpful hostel hostess had told me some people went to the lighthouse to watch sunset instead of Oia for more solitude, but I was willing to trust the masses. She also told me not to stay up top, but to head down the hill. I didn't really know what that meant, but I figured I would figure it out.

A windmill in Oia.

The use donkeys to bring up cargo from the harbor below.

As I walked to the end of the island, the streets got narrowed. They got more crowded. The tour buses were starting to arrive and it was getting even more crowded. I finally got to the 'end' of town and it was madness. The view of sunset was just going to be of the sun sinking into the ocean. Don't get me wrong, I love ocean sunsets, but I'd rather watch the sun set over the caldera in peace that hang out with the mob that was descending on Oia. I am not kidding when I say thousands of people were arriving. There were even signs at hotel balconies that you could only enter if you were a guest. I think it would be fun if you had an unobstructed view from a dinner table (you'll need a reservation), but just walking around town was too much. I decided to duck out and head back to Fira. I settled into the aptly named sunset restaurant and watched an amazing sunset in peace from there. I had another smoothie and who knows what other goodies. I was very happy. It had been a great day.

Sunset from Fira, not from Oia!!

When it was dark, I headed back down the crazy hill to the ferry terminal. A couple cars almost took me out on their way up. It was my own fault for not having a light in front and only in the back. I had made the assumption that I would be safe on the far right side of the road. I was wrong. Anyway, I made it down alright and just in time to meet someone could have been my partner in crime on my bike trip. A cute french girl on a bike tour was in the exact same spot as me the night before. She wanted to camp. She didn't want to bike the big hill or the island in the dark. She had started her tour around the same time as me and had done about 3600km through France, Italy, and Greece. She was unemployed. She was a biker. She has an open ended schedule. She was biking about the same amount of miles as me per day. She normally camps. Unfortunately, she was heading north to Croatia and I was heading east to Turkey. I was tempted to stay another night to sway her, but decided it wasn't likely to happen. We exchanged info in case one of us changed directions, but I don't suspect we'll be meeting up anytime soon. Ships in the night.

I had a chuckle when I first looked at this sign because it says you need no license and it looks like two boats are about to collide.

After getting the French biker a ride to a hostel, I chatted with some other folks. One guy had left a big law firm to travel five years ago. He has not returned and is currently happy harrassing people to eat at a restaurant in Santorini. Another couple was from Boulder, Colorado. I had been thinking about home, so it was great to talk to them. I had also been thinking about a massage and one of them was a massage therapist. If she wasn't on vacation, I would have put her to work.

This is a long post. I had a lot to say. I must have liked it there.

Me at Oia before I abandoned ship on watching sunset there.

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