Fun in the Sun
08.09.2011 - 20.09.2011 30 °C
Santorini is built on the rim of a volcano overlooking a caldera. Even though we sort of, kind of knew what a caldera was it never hurts to double check. For the rest of you who are also not sure, a caldera is a “large, basinlike depression resulting from the explosion or collapse of a volcano”. Just what we thought but it never hurts to clarify. Lonely Planet advises, on arrival into Santorini, to catch a big open air ferry to receive the most spectacular view of the caldera. However the ferry we caught depended more on budget so we were on the speedy one that was all enclosed. This did not lessen our amazement at the sight of the caldera as we coasted into the port. The sheer cliffs that drop straight into the ocean with their tinges of red and pinks strewn through the rock, give way to the crystal clear waters of the Aegean. You can still tell the outline of the still active (no its not extinct) volcano with the rim almost apparent the whole way around. Along with the truckloads of other eager tourists we nudged (okay pushed) our way onto the shuttle bus and gripped the seats tightly as the bus wove its way up the windiest, narrowest, most gut-wrenching road I have ever been on to drop us off at the bus stop where we then proceeded to board another bus.
We had emailed our hotel previously to ask for directions (remember the 5 P’s) and knew exactly what we were doing. After disembarking off our second bus we then had to walk downhill, lugging 25kg of luggage, praying to God it wouldn’t roll away, dodging traffic to reach our hotel. Angeliki greeted us and showed us to our awesomely located room. We were staying in Firostefani which is the next ‘village’ from Fira (Thira). Fira is the main hub and has the hustle and bustle of all those monster cruise shippers every day. Our hotel was a 400m walk from the hub and even better, we had a room with an ocean view. Before you ask, we didn’t have a view of the caldera because you would have to sacrifice an organ for that but a view of the other side of the island. The first thing to do was to view the caldera from the top so into Fira we went. For those of you who have been to Santorini you understand what I am about to say, for those of you who haven’t….pay attention.
Viewing the caldera from the white and blue of the village is enough to bring a tear to your eye. The absolute and utter beauty and natural wonder lets you know that you must be standing in one of, if not the most beautiful place on earth. Look to your left and you see the escalator of white cubist residences scattered down the hillside with bumpy, lumpy winding paths leading you in, out and around. Beyond them is the endless blue of the ocean until it meets the light haze on the distant horizon. An endless blue sky as far as the eye can see with not a cloud in sight. Look to your right and you see more of the same but with a whole different score of shadows lighting them. The buses and boats down at the old port look like nothing more than toys as they scurry around at the water’s edge. Donkeys ramble up the path of 570 steps, ferrying tourists up and down all day with their donkey bells jangling with every step.
Then comes sunset……this is when you look straight ahead. Santorini is famous for its sunsets and now I know why. Bars, restaurants, cafes and even the village edge become crammed with people happy to stand for an hour or so to watch the day end. If you can grab a seat then you’re one of the lucky ones. The sun taunts you with its slow descent into the haze. Every few minutes the sky changes colour and the shades of blue begin to change to pinks, reds and oranges. The days we were there, there were no clouds and the colours would radiate straight out along the horizon like spilt paint following a crack in the concrete. All of a sudden it begins to disappear behind the island in the middle of the caldera and then within moments it is gone. It has become sick of teasing us and just wants to go to bed. What amazes me is that something that happens every single day in our life as we are rushing around to do all our ‘important stuff’ becomes like a freeze frame of life when you are on Santorini. Basically nothing I say can really describe the beauty of this moment and the sunset alone is worth the trip. If you haven’t been to Santorini then put it on your list immediately.
Quad bikes are the main form of tourist transport on Santorini because they won’t let you hire a scooter unless you have ‘motorbike’ stamped on your driver’s license. It was a nice change but we ended up having to swap it because it kept conking out on us and struggled badly to get up any form of hill. We had decided we were going to do a different beach every day and then on our last day pick a favourite. Day two was Akrotiri, the red sand beach. Following a winding track around the headland you stop at a peak and look down to see the steep embankment of red dirt. The sand is reddy brown colour and from a height is quite a vision. Navigating your way down the crumbling hillside is a touch tricky for some, not for us though. As we walked along the beach to find our possy, looking up you were able to see where the natural vertical seams in the 70-80m cliff had given way and slid down towards the water. There were sections of beach roped off as dangerous because of the chance of more landslides; some dedicated sunbakers were lying right in the ‘danger zone’. We parked further up the end where we had a sweeping view of the whole beach area.
Day Three was Paradissos Beach, black sand, a quiet little stretch that seemed like a secret only special people knew about. We were special. The sea was a bit choppier but Adam still persevered with his ocean swim, such dedication. That night we also headed to Oia (eee-ah) to watch the sunset. Oia is reputed to have the ‘best sunset view’ on the island because it is uninterrupted. We cruised up there about five and were strolling through the village when all of a sudden we heard gunshots, loud ones. We couldn’t see anything but then they went again. It stopped us and others in our tracks. Being a bit hesitant to walk any further in case anything undesirable was happening we waited. Bang again and then again, three in a row this time. We were looking at each other, then at others, then each other again. Just as we were about to run away waving our arms frantically in the air we discovered what was happening……a wedding. Nothing like a shotgun to announce the groom and the guests walking through the village to get to the chapel, maybe their bonbonniere is earplugs. Back to our sunset mission, we scouted for the best spot, rounded up some beverages from the corner store and sat on a concrete wall waiting for ‘the moment’. As the time got closer and closer more and more people began arriving, all there to watch the sunset. When it was finally over we decided to do our ‘dinner dance’. Making our way back up the hill we were met with a traffic jam of people. What we hadn’t realised while we were perched on our concrete seat was that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people had congregated in every available, nook, cranny and perch to watch the sunset. This meant that everyone also decided to move at the same time. Queues and queues of people slowly walking up the hill, through the narrow lanes, deciding what to have for dinner by stopping at nearly every restaurant to view the menu. Heaven? I think not. Due to a mixture of hunger and frustration we chose the first empty restaurant to eat, at this point in time chair comfort and ambience was not a priority.
The sunset at Oia is supposed to be the best sunset view on the island, we disagree. When the sun sets from Fira, the island in the centre of the caldera splits the light like a rainbow of warm colours making it more magnificent, we think, than Oia.
Day four and five were spent at Kamari beach, which reminded us of Bali only cleaner. Waterfront chairs, waiter service and the shade of an umbrella……perfection. Nights in Santorini were spent walking the lanes, finding good food and wine while days were spent in the sun. It was sad to leave but only because we did not know what awaited us.
Paros was a two hour slow trip on the big ferry and we arrived at 8pm. Naoussa is the village on the north side of the island and where we had booked our accommodation so we had to catch a bus there. I know I rave about the 5 P’s but they don’t always work when other things, namely useless hotel staff, work against you. Hence we arrived off the bus, in the dark with absolutely no idea which way to go next. “Over behind the big church” was as specific as it got from one waiter so into the night we headed. Up stairs, through lanes, past the big church…. and then what? Finally in the darkness of a back street we found it, thank you motorbike man. Reception empty, wide open but empty so we walked around doing the ‘heelllooo’ with no results until fed up we used their phone to ring the mobile number on the door. “I’ll be two minutes” was the response.
In the light of day we were off exploring the village of Naoussa and feeling very pleased with ourselves for where we had chosen to stay. It was the prettiest village we had stayed in so far and we spent the morning wandering its lanes and then catching the fishing boat over to Kolymbythres beach to spend a couple of late afternoon hours. The next day was my birthday, yay me, so it was my choice……..um I choose the beach, duh . That night we splurged on cocktails by the water and found ourselves not really hungry with all the free nibblies they provide with each order. By ten we thought perhaps we had better eat something so shared a pizza. All in all a good birthday was had by everyone, especially me. While sitting at one of the cocktail bars a movie crew started unloading equipment from the tiny three wheel utes they use to navigate the skinny lanes. Apparently an Italian movie company is making a movie in Paros and no matter how much we fluttered our eyelashes (me) and flexed our biceps (Adam) we were not asked to be extras. Hmmmm?
More beach days and village nights with a quick day trip over to Antiparos, a five minute ferry ride over the channel. Seafood lunch by the water with the octopus hanging up to dry, could this be heaven? I think so. Antiparos is a smaller version of Paros but has the prettier beaches by far. The one we found was a small spit jutting out from the island. The yellow of the sand alongside the blue of the water made it an ideal resting place for the day.
Interesting fact……there are no sheep on any of the islands we have seen, only goats and a smattering of cows but these Greeks can cook lamb like you wouldn’t believe. Lamb in lemon sauce (my personal favourite), lamb in tomato sauce, lamb with potato, I could go on and on. We were eating so much lamb that Adam commented we might turn into one ha ha.
Four days on beautiful Paros was not enough and we both wanted to stay longer, much much longer. However schedules prevail and ours said Mykonos. Forty-five minutes was all it took to dock at Mykonos although we were lucky we made it with the sea angry that day my friends. Swaying and gripping seats while waiting to get off is not my idea of a good time and seasickness was not far off. I have my mother’s stomach.
Mykonos has a reputation of being gregarious and busy and if it was a person it would be that friend that always has to be the centre of attention. We spent our first few hours doing same ol’, same ol’ (exploring). Another island, another scooter, they truly are great fun. We only had two nights and so had to squeeze in as much beach time as possible so it was off to the beach. Mykonos is easily the most expensive and overpriced island we have stayed on, with coffees being up to seven Australian dollars. Ouch! Beach time was great and we were happy lolling on the sand in between dips in the water. After spending way too much money on dinner the first night we decided on pita gyros for lunch and dinner the second night. Considering this is the national food, it wasn’t too hard to find a yummy one.
Mykonos is like one big catwalk and its reputation for being ‘gay friendly’ and overt is well deserved. It’s a fantastic place to people watch and a cheap way to pass the time. Our second day we parked ourselves on Paradise Beach, one of their party beaches and found ourselves mere metres from some nude middle-aged male sunbathers. It’s hard not to look but if you sneak a peek while one of them is bending over, trust me when I say you won’t look again. The beaches are beautiful and we snuck in a quick visit on our last morning so keen were we to soak it up. We finally threw away the towels we 'borrowed' from the hotel in Turkey. These towels could almost stand up by themselves they were so crusty because they hadn't been washed properly in ummmmm two months. It was a bittersweet moment tossing them in the industrial bin.
Now as I sit here writing this we are on the ferry back to Athens. It is full of people and filling up even more. Two hours down, three to go. Keeping our heads down and making no eye contact is helping to preserve some personal space with a culture of people who truly don’t understand the concept. Tomorrow we head to Rome….yeah baby.