Part 3 - Santorin
Who doesn’t know them, the images of pearly-white houses with their blue domes, snuggling into steep cliffs and thereby considered the epitome of the Greek Isle par excellence? We knew them, too, and had heard of their reputation of depicting the most beautiful of the Greek Isles – Santorini. This is why we were excited to go and experience it ourselves for the first time.
Around noon and in beautiful weather we entered the Caldera of Santorini. From a distance, the white houses of its villages looked like snow on the dark edges of the archipelago’s crater.
When we approached the up to 300 m (900 ft) high cliffs, the different layers of lava rock became impressively visible, and the white mass above sharpened into individual structures dominated by blue and white colors. But everywhere in between, the closer we got, we could see some terracotta or reddish outliers hinting at the world famous postcard image.
Obviously, we weren’t the only ones attracted by the most famous island of the Cyclades. At the foot of the village of Fira there were already four other cruise ships, whose passengers had been filling the streets of the small towns since the morning.
From the tender boat we could already see the spot from where the 300 meters (900 feet) in altitude between the little port and the town above were to be overcome.
The most convenient way surely is to take the funicular, whose swath was already clearly visible from the tender boat. The most adventurous option is probably to get on the back of a donkey and let him take you up the stairs, which are also clearly visible as a zigzag line leading up the hill. And then there is the sporting challenge, where you earn the view from the top by ascending the 566 long-drawn-out steps on foot.
We had decided to compensate for the neglected visits to the gym by walking up those stairs long before we saw the queue at the base station of the cable car.
The ascent via the stairs wasn’t only an athletic challenge but also a very interesting experience. You share the path with the donkeys, some climbing up the stairs on their own after being sent off by their drivers.
While we were wheezily climbing the stairs, we were either overtaken by the donkeys on their way up, or they were coming towards us on their way down.
But we were never surprised by the groups of animals appearing from behind a bend. We either noticed them by the little bells on their harnesses or by the shrieks of mostly female tourists clinging closely to the wall to give way to the animals.
The donkeys, who knew every step and every angle of the path by heart, simply went by the law of the jungle. Obstinately they were running up or down the stairs and were by no means shy or asocial. Therefore, it could be quite a challenge to master the slalom between the donkeys and not step into or slip on their “legacies” which could be found all over the steps. At the same time it was fun to watch the not quite relaxed faces of the tourists riding the donkeys that kept coming towards us.
Surely enhanced by the sun, which was now mercilessly burning down on us, the intense smell of the often very slippery steps made us perceive this ascent as an “aromatic” walk.
The funicular passed above our heads a few times. In just a few minutes, it carried its guests comfortably up the hill, while those were probably shaking their heads in disbelief at the sportier visitors struggling uphill beneath them.
Some 25 minutes later, completely soaked with sweat, we reached Fira at the top and were deeply impressed by the view of the crater and the colorful houses which seemed to cling to the cliffs.
Our plan was to visit the town of Oia first. Oia is some 11 km (7 miles) away from Fira and is said to offer great views of the bay of Fira and the cruise ships anchoring there. We wanted to visit Oia first and then, depending on how the day would unfold, return to Fira and spend the rest of the time there. After all, we had a very comfortable departure time of only 10.00 pm, which allowed us plenty of time to do both.
There are various ways to reach Oia. E. g. at the base station of the funicular there are boats with which you can reach Oia by sea, and at the top in Fira there is a bus stop of a public shuttle bus between Fira and Oia.
We had decided to rent a scooter. So we went through the maze of narrow streets past many colorful shops, housefronts and courtyards towards the street, where the internet had told us we’d be able to find various rental stations.
Somehow, though, we didn’t quite manage to get there directly but ended up on a peak in some residential area. But even there we found a rental place. It didn’t have any scooters left, but a buggy and an ATV. Since we didn’t want to look any further, we went for the ATV, which was probably more comfortable for Birgit as the passenger than a scooter.
And so we were merrily off to Oia. We had to laugh after we turned around the next corner and saw one scooter rental after another ... It didn’t matter, we had a vehicle and were on our way.
It took us some 25 minutes to reach Oia following the road along the crater. At the narrow town entrance, tour and shuttle buses as well as vans and rental cars were backed up, so that some had to reverse first to let the others pass. But with our little ATV we were mostly able to wriggle ourselves along.
Our first stop was a large square hosting two churches. From there we had the first beautiful view from Oia across the bay of the crater.
Inspired by the first view, we continued a little further and parked our ATV at a car park, where we soon bumped into friends from the ship who had come here as part of an organized tour.
We followed the many people and plunged into the maze of colorful streets which were lined with restaurants, little shops and art galleries.
Again and again, there were gaps from where we could enjoy fabulous views of the sea and the houses and churches built on the slopes.
Naturally, all tourists wanted to record this beautiful vista. We even saw a few wedding couples who, together with other daredevil visitors, ventured all the way to the edge of the roofs to have their photos taken.
As in many mediterranean countries, I looked with envy at the many beautiful bougainvilleas with their incredibly strong and intense colors forming a magnificent contrast to the white facades.
At the end of the alleyways we reached the ruins of an old little fort from which we got a gorgeous panoramioc view of the Oia promontory.
We lingered for a while to take in the breathtaking views before we returned to the parking lot. On our way back, every corner, every new angle and every colorful shop was another temptation to release the shutter. Sparkling white houses and alleys with colorful elements, colorful shops and intensely blooming bougainvilleas in front of them ... it was pure heaven for any photographer.
On the road following the chasm we soon reached our departure point in Fira but continued a little furhter on that road to visit the less touristy parts of town. Then we clattered back in our vehicle towards the rental station and returned it before continuing our discovery tour on foot.
In the light of the now soft afternoon sun, Fira was in no way inferior to previously visited Oia in terms of diverse and attractive photo opportunites.
In town we soon reached the beautiful catholic catheral, which was visible from afar with its bell tower so rich in detail and colorfully painted.
During our visit, the light falling through a stained-glass window enveloped the altar inside the house of worship in a mystical light.
When we left the church, we came directly across the line queuing for the funicular, and were already happy at first sight not having to stand in line. But when we turned around the next corner, this joy turned into pure gratitude – the queue of people waiting stretched all the way down the road as far as our eyes could see. Later back on board we heard that some had been queuing up to 1.5 hours.
The Reflection didn’t leave until 10.00 pm. Therefore, we were in no hurry at all, enjoyed the beautiful sights, strolled through the narrow streets and bought a souvenir.
By now, the sun was low on the horizon and sent its last golden beams towards Santorini. In the reddish-warm glow of the early sunset, the town shone again in a completely different light and had us under its spell.
Some bars and lounges offered their guests front row seats with perfect views of the natural spectacle soon to begin. Thanks to our late departure, we were also able to enjoy it. We sat down on one of the inviting roof terraces and watched, spellbound, the fascinating color changes over the bay while raising a glass of Santorini wine and a cocktail to another wonderful day.
And then it was time to return to the ship. We caught a last glimpse of this beautiful town, by now lit by the evening lights, which despite its touristy hustle and bustle and the crowds of people that come with it, still cast a certain spell on us.
With the mild temperatures that evening, the way down the stairs was maybe less strenuous than in the morning, but it was by no means less tricky. With fading light it became more and more difficult to avoid the slippery spots on the steps, while groups of donkeys were still claiming their prerogative of every inch of the way. But we were also rewarded by beautiful views of our Celebrity Reflection, where after another delicious dinner at BLU we ended this beautiful day at the Sky Lounge together with our friends Linda and Pete.
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