Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Sep 15, 2008

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Flag of Greece  , Cyclades,
Sunday, June 8, 2008

6/8 I arrived in Santorini on a turboprop and was met by Poppy from Villa Manos. The hotel was not far and was much nicer than I expected. My room had a refrigerator, local TV and a balcony with a view of the sea. This is definitely not as primitive (nor as cheap) as where I stayed in Turkey. I quickly got a lesson in the price differences between the 2 countries. Internet usage costs $4.60 in Greece vs. $1.60 in Turkey. The shirts I paid $8 for in Turkey were selling for $30 in Santorini.

The hotel was outside of town by a few kilometers along the main road. I walked into town to find an ATM since the airport didn't have one. I then wanted to walk to the beach but I underestimated the size of the island. Bus service only runs to a handful of the major towns and few of the nicer beaches. I got directions and struck out on a walk to a beach that had good reviews. To make a long story shorter I ended up walking 14 kilometers to the beach which was deserted! The walk was scenic but there were no taxis and few cars along the way. Most of the people are on the top of the caldera while the beaches are on the opposite sides of the island.

Koloumbos Beach was nice but was pebbles with some black sand. I could see Ios and some of the other Greek Islands in the distance. I went swimming but there were very few fish. Santorini is famous for its gorgeous views and not, however, for great beaches and I could see why. I was determined not to walk back the way I came so I walked the 5km into Oia, the second largest town on the island. I was able to enjoy the very famous sunset along the way before taking a public bus back to town.

I had hoped to visit the Akrotiri excavations which, like Pompeii, consist of an entire town buried under ash. Unfortunately the excavations remain closed as they are preparing the site for public access. The island of Santorini really consists of the towns of Fira and Oia and then everything else. The towns are touristy but have the famous Santorini views from the top of the caldera towards the volcano. The rest of the island is sparsely inhabited with lots of donkey pastures, barren land, unfinished buildings and grapevines.

The hike around the island yesterday loosened my wallet so I rented a car for the next 2 days (I did not bring my Texas drivers license since I had not expected to rent a car but the company eventually relented and accepted my passport instead). Many people rent the scooters or 4-wheelers but I had no idea how to drive one and didn't like the thought of so little protection. There is not much traffic on the island so the car was definitely a good way to explore in the most efficient way. I ventured to the southern part of the island for a different beach experience. Somehow I managed to find Vlachada Beach despite the paucity of road signs.

This beach had a few more people but was essentially empty. It did feature some cool cliffs that appeared to have been creatively carved by the wind. The beach was primarily black sand and I enjoyed the perfect weather and a book for the afternoon. I went into town to walk the famous Agios Minos Street which is in Fira along the top of the caldera. The views are just spectacular!!! It was fun just to watch people reach the street for the first time and catch a glimpse from the top. Inevitably jaws would drop and eyes would bug out.

For my final day in Santorini I booked an excursion to see the volcano and get views of the island from the water. I walked down the 500+ steps to the old port along a route shared with dozens of donkeys. The donkey ride up or down costs 5 Euros but I was running late and thought I could make better time. The walkway was made up of smooth cobblestones covered with donkey poop. I enjoyed watching the Italian women in their nice shoes talking animatedly about the adventure.

The first stop on the excursion was the actual volcano which lies in the center of the old caldera. The old caldera is comprise of Santorini, Thirasia and a smaller island. Picture a doughnut with the doughnut hole being the volcano while the islands are the yummy glazed part on the outside of the doughnut. The volcano is considered dormant although it did erupt in 1950. The view from the water of Fira town hanging on to the top of the caldera was stunning. You wonder just how the town was ever built but certainly can see why someone would want to live there. We hiked to the top of the volcano where our tour guide gave us a history lesson on the volcano.

The most famous eruption of the volcano was in 1640BC when many theorize that the ancient prosperous city of Atlantis was destroyed. It is often considered legend but there are many facts supporting the claim that Atlantis was located at present-day Santorini such as geological models, ancient paintings, and Minoan history. The volcano crater collapsed destroying Atlantis and causing a massive tidal wave that destroyed Minoan civilizations on Crete according to these historians.

Next we headed to Palia Kameni for a swim stop so people could visit the hot springs and mud baths. I wanted no part of that so I swam in the opposite direction to explore the fringes of the island. The water was rough making swimming a challenge and I saw very few small fish. It was entertaining watching the rest of the group return from the warmer waters only to encounter the cooler waters and then act like Olympic swimmers.

The excursion took us finally to the island of Thirasia which only has 250 people. There were 5 or so seafood restaurants on the water all offering the same menus of squid, octopus and small fish with beady eyes. No thanks. There's no beach on the island but I found a small dock where I was able to lay out and read.

Santorini's fame is well-deserved and I can see why it is such a popular honeymoon destination. With dozens of romantic restaurants from which to view the sunset it makes a great spot for couples but not so great for an old, single guy. I can't even recall seeing another solo traveller during my 4 days in Santorini. There were groups of young college kids though who found some popular nightspots. I'm certainly glad I visited since the views are truly magnificent but am equally glad I didn't plan more time on Santorini.

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