Easter is in the rearview mirror and I’m feeling a bit blue over the prospect of weeks or months more in virtual lockdown at home. So, today I’m clicking my heels together and returning to spectacular Santorini.
It’s the final of six travel log installments of a dream vacation in Greece and Turkey.
Our odyssey began in Amazing Ancient Athens, with a side trip to Delphi Home of the Oracle. Then, we embarked on a 10-day small ship cruise that included visits to Nafplio, Mykonos, Ephesus, and Patmos.
Santorini, or Thira, is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. It is the remnant of a devastating volcanic eruption that took place about 3,600 years ago. A popular theory is that the clataclisplic event was the source of Plato’s tale of Atlantis.
Popular as a cruise ship and travel destination, Santorini attracts thongs of tourists and honeymooners who navigate the narrow, crowded streets of its two principal towns — Fira and Oia. Picturesque whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches overlook the sea; clinging to cliffs high above the huge underwater caldera.
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Santorini is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago. Here’s our view from the the deck of the masted Windstar. We are actually floating above the island’s enormous, underwater crater. In the center, a new landmass is slowly rising from the still active volcano. White-tinged edges on the gray rock cliffs are whitewashed buildings characteristic of Santorini.
I actually took the picture above as we were about to set sail and depart from the caldera. After spending a very rough day at sea, dark gray skies and a light rain greeted our arrival the day before. As ominous as Santorini looked when we sailed into the caldera, it was picture postcard perfect as we left.
Due to a rare hurricane-like event in the Mediterranean, we had sheltered in place the day before while Visiting Patmos, Greece. Instead of sailing overnight to arrive in Santorini early in the morning, we spent an entire day at sea in eight-foot high seas.
It also meant that we had to skip a half-day visit to Gibraltar-like Monemvasia on the way back to Amazing Ancient Athens.
We awoke to cloudy skies and a light but constant drizzle. Still, the entire ship was excited to tender over to solid ground and explore Santorini.
Sitting high above the caldera is the port town Fira. Cruise ship passengers transfer to the base of the cliff by tender. Once there, you have three options — either climb the steep, switchback path on foot or riding a donkey, or take the funicular.
Can you see the white zigzag path to the left of the picture? That’s the donkey route.
While riding the cable car, you get a good view of the the water-filled caldera with cruise ships below (sorry for the window reflections). Also note the landmass in the center rising from the active volcano on the seafloor.
Travel Tip: Ride the funicular! It’s quite reasonably priced and much faster. Walking up or down means sharing the narrow path with donkeys, and navigating around the slippery dung they leave behind. I’ve read that charming as riding a donkey sounds, it’s a slow process that is not for the faint of heart!
Donkeys are used throughout Santorini as a practical way to move goods up and down steep paths, roads and steps. We saw a number of them in the small villages we visited.
Exploring Santorini in a Day
Santorini is a big island to cover and there’s a lot to see and do. Since none of the Windstar excursions offered the broad sampling of Santorini that we wanted, we arranged a tour via Vacations to Go. They had also booked our Windstar cruise.
Intimate Santorini is a small group tour by local operator, Santorini Experts. It was excellent!
Our friendly guide met seven of us — from three different cruise ships — at the top of the funicular. From there we walked to the street where the driver and van were waiting.
Renting a car on Santorini isn’t an practical option, as traffic and parking can extremely challenging.
During the six hour excursion, we strolled through several traditional villages, tasted wines of the island, and traveled to world-renowned Oia.
Throughout the tour, we also learned about the island’s agriculture, traditions and religion from our informative guide.
We started in Megalochori on the southern part of the island, which is the center of the wine growing area.
There we got to explore a traditional village with iconic architecture. Don’t you love all the beautiful Cerulean blue on the church domes, doors, gates and other elements?
From there, we continued on to the medieval town of Pyrgos, famous for narrow and labyrinthine paths.
While there, we visited an old Venetian castle, and enjoyed panoramic views.
It was still cloudy and drizzling so most of my pictures from the morning aren’t particularly blog worthy.
Taste of Atlantis
Afterwards, we toured one of the island’s oldest wineries. While sipping and tasting award winning wines and local delicacies, we learned how wine is cultivated and processed on Santorini.
Notice the two wines called, “Atlantis”?
By the time we headed to Oia, the skies had cleared. Oia is the northernmost village of the island, known for its unforgettable sunsets that draw visitors from around the globe.
Situated on the edge of the caldera, Oia is dotted with traditional “cave” houses inside the pumice stone, as well as iconic blue-domed churches.
We spent some time strolling together as a group through the ruins of Oia Castle, as well as the maze of small shops and cafes.
Since many cruise ships and ferry passengers had sheltered in place from the medicane overnight in the caldera, Oia’s narrow pathways were packed with tourists — more than normal! So we elected to explore on our own, and meet our guide and driver later for the ride back to Fira.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes, a hat and sun blocker while exploring Santorini. We brought a bottle of water from the ship, and the tour operator had more in the van. And, don’t forget your camera!
Oia is carved out of the cliffs, and visitors can see houses built for Venetian sea captains as well as the more typical homes of villagers.
You’ll find the pure white buildings with colorful roofs that are typical of Greek architecture. It was like being in a fairy tale!
There are also incredible accommodations popular with honeymooners and romances seekers.
I couldn’t get over the number of blue-domed churches. Apparently most are private chapels, with many in families for generations.
I’m not sure what was more mesmerizing; the charming town’s buildings or views of the caldera?
We must have take a gazillion pictures! And, most have a blue-domed church in them, lol!
Going through all the photographs — and trying to pick a select few — is why it’s taken me so long to publish this final post on our vacation to Greece.
Sadly, we weren’t able to stay to see sunset from Oia. Even though we missed sunset on Santorini, we did see a beautiful one while at sea.
What Goes Up, Must Go Back Down
Originally, our ship wasn’t scheduled to depart from Santorini until nine at night. But, because of the medicane’s impact on our itinerary, we had to set sail for Athens at five. And, we had to drive back to Fira, catch a cable car and not miss the last tender to the Windstar.
See the masts of the Windstar waiting for us below?
Someday, hubby and I would like to take another Greek vacation, spending four or five days on Santorini and another week on Crete.
As we were leaving the caldera, we got a nice view of the ferry port, Athinios. Cars were backed up for what seemed like a mile or more, as the medicane had caused a two-day stop in ferry traffic.
See the three pretty windmills at the top of the picture? They are all over the Greek islands, but none as famous as those on Mykonos.
Have you ever been to Santorini? If so, what was your most memorable experience there?
Storm Closer to Home
Speaking of storms…
First, let me share my thoughts and prayers for all those impacted by the recent wave of deadly storms, powerful winds, and tornados.
Mom called me shaken on Monday by the narrow miss they had with a tornado on Folly Beach S.C. Startled awake by the sounds of sirens and cell phone alerts, mom sheltered in a stairwell with my sister, her husband and the family pets. My niece and nephew were also spared on adjacent James Island. Others weren’t so fortunate.
If a Tree Falls in the Woods…
Here in Pittsburgh we experienced very heavy downpours and strong winds. But, by about three in the afternoon the sun came out. That’s when my husband realized a four-story wild cherry tree in our woods had just come down. All the water and winds combined to uproot the tree, leaving a giant hole in the ground.
In its wake, the fallen tree tore branches off a red leaf maple and large Bradford Pear at the edge of the yard. The flowering canopy also got all entangled in three mature hemlocks, leaving them a bit worse for wear.
Hubby immediately got out the chain saw to try to help minimize any further stress and damage on other impacted trees, shrubs and plants. He spent a good part of the last two days cleaning up.
Unfortunately, the adjacent four-story tall cherry has also been compromised, and is leaning into yet another tree. So, it looks like we’ll need to have them brought down by a tree service. Worse, is the giant hole in what had been a woodsy view. We’ve lost a significant green screen of privacy with the homes behind us.
Oh well. It is what it is. Thankfully, and most importantly, no one was hurt.
In last week’s, New Normal: Stay Home & Wear a Homemade Mask, I shared how members of my family were helping in the nationwide volunteer effort. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to getting started on making 15 masks for firefighters. A local sewing business is selling the kit of supplies (with elastic included!) for $15. It’ll be nice to lend a hand.
P.S. If you’re looking for an interesting game to play while homebound (or anytime), see Santorini. Our son bought it for us last Christmas and it’s lots of fun.
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