Aegean Sea Islands, part II: Santorini

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Greece  , Cyclades,
Sunday, May 18, 2008

The ferry stopped at the Santorini caldera, where a small port docked boats at the base of a volcanic cliff.  From here, the violence of the old eruption was apparent, as the volcano must have been large: today a gaping hole filled by the sea replaced it.  The legend of Atlantis lives here, and many experts believe this might have been the place, before the eruption, that Plato described.  What we do know is that, like Knossos, advanced Minoan civilizations thrived, then disappeared on Santorini because of the eruption (see mural photograph).  These civilizations would have been distant memories to Plato's Athenian society centuries later, distant memories upon which legends are built.

At the Caldera Bay port, we met a jovial man who offered us a pension in Firostefani.  We said we'd look, and he gave us a ride there.  The pension courtyard was full of flowers and whitewashed, with views of the sea.  Here we stayed for three nights, feeling extremely thankful for the relaxing place.  Most of the time, we walked around Fira and Oia, two of the main towns on Santorini.  On another day, we went to the black sand beaches on the north shore.

Santorini tempted the eyes to look in many directions: down into the deep blue waters of the caldera, across to the new crater emerging from the depths, to the Greek blue-domed churches and white buildings trickling into the caldera down steep stairways.  Newer buildings were being constructed with cement and rebar to make them fairly earthquake-proof considering the poor location on top of a volcano, but the finishing touches of paint and contoured walls gave the impression of old style, quaint, and purity mixed together.  Nevertheless, much of Santorini is fifty years or less old, after an earthquake obliterated it.

The volcanic hillsides were covered with small grape shrubs kept trimmed and low because of the wind and dryness--a harsh environment.   Large cruise ships waited in the caldera as visitors shopped for jewelry, art, and souveniers.  Carolyn and I looked down: "what if it blew up now?" I said to her.  Along the narrow pedestrian streets were dozens of restaurants and cafes.  Santorini was designed for the tourist, for the honeymoon couple and despite the crowds, still retained a serenity and peace combined with authenticity, despite the rumbling molten earth underneath.

At the black sand Kamari beach, the May water was invigoratingly cold just as the sands were blisteringly hot.  A group of local kids dove from a high cliff, other sunbathed.  A fisherman in a small boat rowed to shore while I swam around.  Umbrellas shaded us and a friendly local dog from the descending sun. 
A big morning hug greeted us at Mamma's restaurant where we went twice for breakfast as Mamma cooked pancakes and eggs in the kitchen.  We also tried some local fish one night at Nicolas, a bustling restaurant in Fira.  But we also had our own kitchen, so made Greek salads and sandwiches on our own, from raw materials of the nearby markets.
One night we took the public bus to the tip of the island for the sunset.  Everyone else had the same idea, as the town of Oia is "the sunset point."  Shops lined the main pedestrian walkways and whitewashed hotels blended with the town as a whole, which dripped white into the caldera below.  The sun descended behind old windmills, now pitturesque skeletons adding to the mood and belying an older economy with roots in the wind and soil.  Once the sun disappeared, people clapped and walked home.
Carolyn decided that we should head next to Mykonos and Delos, abode of Apollo, before returning to the mainland.  As she had taken three weeks of her vacation time to visit me, this was more her trip to plan than mine, so most of the time, I was along for the ride in the passenger's seat so she could do what she wanted.  We returned to the small caldera port where we took the next ferry heading north.
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