Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Santorini - the island of dreams

Santorini was by far my favorite place on our journey.  I am so glad we decided to go there, because it wasn’t in the original plan.  What a fabulous addition. 

Our hotel was adorable.  Our hostess was a vivacious Greek woman named Maria who lived on the first floor of the hotel and told us to come get her anytime if we needed help.  We had our own balcony looking over the main street in town (we stayed in Karterados) where we sat for awhile just enjoying the warmth and beauty of the place.  Then we took showers (since we hadn’t done that since before we left Budapest).  Showering was a bit tricky because there was no shower curtain, so pretty much everything in the whole bathroom got wet.  Oh well.
   
We walked around Karterados a bit, heading generally toward the beach even though it was too far away to reach.  We turned around and came back to the heart of town after we walked by Hotel Stavros, which was where the others from the Calvin group were planning on staying.  They were to get in the next night.  We had supper at a mom and pop-type place and then turned in early with plans to go on a day-long boat trip to some surrounding islands the next day (Saturday).
Saturday morning dawned cool and cloudy, though, so we were skeptical about our planned boat trip.  Did we really want to go if it was going to be cold and cloudy?  We decided to chance it, though.  After breakfast when we told Maria where we were going, she offered to drive us to the town of Fira, where the port was.  Of course we accepted her offer, especially since she told us we’d never make it in time if we walked.  I think we actually could have made it, because we did the walk later and it didn’t take that long, but it was nice to be driven to exactly where we needed to be.  Since Maria was urging us to hurry we took the cable car down the mountain instead of walking. 
   
Of course, then we had to wait 20 minutes for our boat.  It was ok, though.  We just poked in some of the tourist shops down at the harbor and got excited that the sun seemed to be coming out.  It was definitely warming up.
The first stop on our boat tour was Nea Kameni, where there is an active volcano.  This same volcano is the reason Santorini exists, and last erupted in the 1950s.  I had taken off my sweatshirt before leaving the boat, and my long-sleeved shirt came off during the hike up to the caldera.  Good thing we dressed in layers!  It got downright hot.  I can’t imagine doing that hike in July or August.  It must be sweltering.  Our guide kept telling us to “feel the power of the volcano,” but all I felt was hot.  There were lots of little tiki umbrellas and benches all along the path where you could rest.  It was amazing, though, to feel 97 degree (celsius) steam coming out of the side of the mountain, and to see the indentation that was the caldera.  I learned all about volcanoes in school, and it was just the coolest thing to be on an active one.  (And not at all dangerous, either, Mom.)
       
From there we went to Palea Kameni, where there are natural hot springs.  The water gets too shallow near the island for the boat to dock, so we had to jump off the side of the boat into the cold Aegean Sea and wim 75 yards or so to the hot springs.  I’m not sure I’d actually call them “hot” springs, though.  More like “lukewarm” springs.  It wasn’t really much warmer than the Aegean itself, but enough so that you could tell it had a warm source.  Mostly the water was brown from the minerals in it, and soooo salty.  I hadn’t realized it would be quite so salty, and made the mistake of licking my lips upon jumping into the water.  Ick.  I didn’t do that again.  I’m glad I have a black swimsuit, because the water in the hotsprings was so brown that a girl who was wearing a white suit when she went in came out with a brown one. 
Following our dip in the Aegean we put in at Thirassia for lunch.  We could have walked 150 stairs up to the main town, but we were tired and hungry after our previous hike and swim, so Christy and I opted to stay in the port town.  We were able to wash our faces a bit with water and napkins at lunch, which was a huge blessing.  There was salt caked onto our faces, and it was drying and itchy.  After our lunch we wandered down the one road and ended up sitting by the shore for awhile.  We saw some cool fish in the water and two little boys out in their boats.  The water is such a part of peoples’ lives there.  These boys couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7, but they had their own boats. 
   
After a nice break on Thirassia we headed to the town of Oia on Santorini.  On the way we stopped over a reef (which was dead, so not too cool).  We had a glass bottom boat, so we could see it pretty well.  The reef was obviously a most important part of our experience, because the “Last of the Mohicans” theme was played over the loudspeakers while we were stopped.  Very dramatic.  We laughed pretty hard.
When we got to Oia Christy and I opted to walk up the 250 stairs to the town rather than take the donkey train.  We wanted to ride donkeys at some point, because they’re a big part of island life (many people don’t have vehicles, just donkeys), but it was 4 euros, and we knew we could ride them for 3 euros at Fira.  So we hiked up the mountain.  The “stairs” were really just a steeply slanted pathway with the occasional step up onto more slanted walkway. 
 
It was a hot thirty minutes to the top, but we felt quite accomplished when we reached the town.  And it was so beautiful.  When someone pictures white houses nestled into the cliffside in Greece, Oia is what they are imagining.  And it’s not just one place in town; it’s the whole place.  I loved it.
     
We wandered around the town for awhile.  We had to find the bus station so that we could catch the bus back to Fira later.  The plan was to say in Oia to watch the sunset, which we had been told was always fabulous, and then take the bus back.  We bought some groceries so we could have a picnic supper because once we found a place to watch the sunset, we didn’t want to leave it, as it gets pretty crowded in sunset watching spots in Oia.  We needed to know where the bus station was, though, because the last bus left to go back to Fira at 7:15, and the sun wouldn’t set until at least 6:30.  We finally gave up and found a sunset-watching spot instead, and then Christy stayed there with our groceries while I scoured the town for the bus station.  I finally found it after about half an hour, and on my way back to where Christy was I realized we had been about 10 yards from the bus stop at one point, and had walked by a sign that says “Bus Station” and has an arrow which way to go not once but twice.  It’s so nice to travel with someone else who has a good sense of humor, because we both thought the situation worthy of a laugh.

The sunset that night was nice.  Not spectacular, but nice.  It was a good end to a good day - eating bread and cheese and apples and drinking juice while watching the sky change colors in such a pretty setting.  We were worn out but on a high from the amazing day we had just had.  We watched the homeless dogs (of which there were LOTS) play with each other and beg tourists for food, and just enjoyed sitting still for awhile.
       
The bus to Fira was packed, but Christy and I were lucky enough to get seats, which was nice because we were so tired.  I think we both dozed a bit on the ride, but the ten minute walk from Fira to Karterados woke us up again.  We walked down to Hotel Stavros to see if Cory, Christina, Sarah, and Elisabeth were there, but couldn’t find anyone there, not even a receptionist, so we came back to our hotel and sat out on the balcony in the hopes that they would walk by.  We didn’t really have any way to contact them, so if we didn’t happen to see them, chances were slim that we would be able to get together at all.  Five minutes after we went onto the balcony, though, they walked by!  We were all so excited to see each other, and they came up to our room for a while to chat.  We heard all about their time in Athens and got tips on what to do when we went back.  It was nearing 11 when they left, and we had plans to meet up again at 11 the next morning. 

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 10/31 at 06:31 AM
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