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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Europe, Summer 2012 - Santorini

Part 2 - Santorini

The next morning was our flight to the Greek island of Santorini. Andie and I had been there for our honeymoon nearly 20 years ago and loved it. When we were planning this trip Andie and I were really not too keen on returning to Santorini - not because we didn't like it (far from it) but because we wanted to go someplace we had never been. The kids, on the other hand, really wanted to visit Santorini so that sealed the deal.



Andie found what looked to be a lovely villa using Home Away called the Pink Cave House. We booked a week there.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself... let's talk about the flight from London to Santorini.

We rose at 6. Our room was club level so we had breakfast in the club room. We then caught a cab to Heathrow - our driver was not familiar with Aegean airlines and had to call in to figure out what gate to get to, but he figured it out and we arrived no problem. Once we got to the airport, however, we ran into a problem getting our boarding passes. The kiosk would not read all of our passports. We had a bit of back and forth - the ticket desk said we needed to go to the check-in desk and the folks at the check-in desk said we needed to go to the ticket desk. Finally I ended up at the first-class check-in desk (almost by accident) and the guy (Mohammed) there was very helpful and got everything worked out for us. He did give one piece of advice that was very helpful - he told me to not scan our passports again but to instead enter our flight numbers into the kiosk.

Our flight to Athens was on time and we had no issues. In Athens we still had issues at the kiosk, but then we took the advice of Mohammed and used the light numbers to get our boarding passes. We also had a quick bite at the airport. The food was... well... nearly edible. 

One thing we were really worried about was whether our luggage would be there. This is always a concern when you have to change planes, but being in a foreign country just amplifies these concerns.

Well, eventually we boarded our flight to Santorini, and after a 30 minute flight we arrived in Thira. Luckily our luggage was there, so no problem there. I called our rental car company (Sunbird) to let them know we had arrived. I was told to meet our drive, Stavos, in the parking lot. It all seemed a little shady to us, but Stavos was quite nice and the car (a Peugeot) was clean and in good shape. Stavos drove us to the rental car office in the next town. As we were driving I pointed out that the car was almost empty. He said we should just return it almost empty. I should point out that I hate that. Fill the car with gas. Or at least give me the option. This would become an issue later as well.

When I paid for the car (€300  for the week) I mentioned the gas level. She said she had it marked as 1/4 full and I said no, in reality it was almost empty. "Don't worry, you'll have plenty get you through until get a chance to get some gas". OK.



Santorini is a small, crescent shaped island. It is the last remaining remnant of what was once a large, powerful volcano. Many thousands of years ago the volcano fell into the ocean - many believe this is where the story of Atlantis came from. All that remains is a partial sliver of the top of the volcano's cone. This is Santorini. The water at the interior of the crescent is known as the Caldera.





Oia, which is locared on the northern tip of Santorini, is an interesting and unique town. The town is built into a hillside. You may not know it, but I guarantee you have seen pictures of Oia. With it's white-washed houses and blue domed roofs built into the side of the sheer hill overlooking the deep blue Meditteranean, Oia is arguably one of the most photographed towns in the world. Most of the restaurants and stores occupy the part of the town that is at the top of the hill, with a (comparatively) wide stone lined walkway which connects one side of town to another. the homes and hotels are below the main part of town, connected by a jumbled series of narrow walkways and stairs. Oia is not a town for those with mobility issues.




The "Pink Cave House" is small, funky and cute. Out front is a nice patio with a table and chairs. The kitchen and bathroom are at the front of the house. There is a door into the kitchen on the right, but the main door is on the left and it leads to the living room which is right behind the kitchen. One of the bedrooms is also at the front on the other side of the front door, and there is another at the back of the house. Outside there is also a small (and very treacherous) stairway that leads to a rooftop patio over the kitchen, and then goes on to a small second-floor bathroom. That bedroom was left unused - it was just too hot up there. Instead Nat and Charlotte slept in the front bedroom while Andie and I used the back bedroom. In fact we took the fan out of the upstairs bedroom and used it in the back bedroom.




The funkiness of the house continues with the decor. I would call it... 60's european kitsch. With lots of artwork. Funky artwork including several nudes. One in particular peice - a statue of a male nude - along with our constant playing of Greek belalyka music proved to be a bit of an inspiration for the girls. OK - first, get the "Zorba the Greek" theme in your head. "da-DA-da-da-da-dada-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-DA-da-da..." - got it? OK, imagine two teen-age girls going around the house dancing the tsestos singing "sta-TUE-pe-nis-sta-tue-pe-nis-sta-tue-pe-nis-sta-tue-pe-nis-sta-TUE-pe-nis..."

But I digress....

After settling in to the house we were hungry so we went out for dinner. We had passed a restaurant call Lotza on our way to the house so we decided to go there. Lotza has an entrance on the main road and a patio in the back overlooking the water. We ate our meal - which was declicious - while the waiters watched a soccer game in the break room. Very European  Our meal was wonderful. I had chicken suvlaki, Andie had spanikopita, Charlotte had pasta and Nat had hummus. We shared a tomato arugula salad and a bottle of white wine (well, Charlotte didn't have any wine). With tip it came to about €90.

After dinner we walked around a bit and stopped for baklava at a local bakery. And it was AMAZING!



After picking up our honey-soaked dessert we headed back to the cave house. The kids went to bed while Andie and I sat outside on the patio. It was a wonderful, comfortable evening. While we were sitting on the porch something happened that would happen several times on the trip - people would walk by the patio obviously lost. In this case it was a french couple who obviously had no idea where they were. We ended up staying up quite late, finally getting to bed about 2:00. When we did go to bed we had to deal with the mosquito net on the bed which was a bit of a pain, but we managed. (Actually, on about the third night I sat on the net and accidentally pulled it down. At least after that we did not have to deal with it anymore.)

Monday



The next morning was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. In fact, we would not see a cloud - not one single cloud - our entire week in Santorini. I went to the local grocery store in search of coffee and fruit. Pretty slim pickin's there. I did notice that they had trays of some sort of drink in little plastic cups set up in the cooler section. I wondered what they were for. I would learn later that it was a local liquer that the store sold. When cruise ship groups walked by the store they would grab a tray and run out to give away samples in hopes of selling a few bottles. Speaking of which, staying in Santorini for an entire week I noticed something about the impact of the cruise ships on the local economy. Looking at this store in particular - which in addition to groceries sold inexpensive souvenirs - I would guess that they did at least 70% of their business from cruise ships patrons.



Anyway, they had no fruit so I went to a larger store on the other side of town. I did find fruit there, although they only sold the same coffee that I saw at the first market. I wasn't even sure if it was ground coffee or instant.

I got back to the house and looked at a clock for the first time to discover it was... 1:00 PM! Wow! A bit later the housekeeper Miranda showed up with breakfast (at 1:00?). I had actually forgotten that breakfast came with the house. We told her we weren't sure if we needed breakfast every morning (with 2 vegetarians and a vegan it wan unclear how useful it would be anyway). Still, the breakfast of omelet and french baguette was quite good, and the pears I bought at the store were awesome. The coffee was... not awesome.



Andie and I took our coffee outside to the porch. As we sat there we saw a guy with a long grey beard take some food off a table on porch of one of the other houses. We wondered if he was stealing food - he actually looked homeless. We discovered later that no, he was living in the house. He worked on the porch every day on a laptop. Perhaps a writer staying alone in Santorini for inspiration?

We walked around Oia for a while and went to lunch. Check out Nat's photos of some of the food we had at different restaurants around Santorini. We also did some shopping - Andie bought some jewelry and a scarf and Nat bought a hat (you can see the hat in some of the pictures later from Athens).




We then went back to the room and where I left the ladies while I went on a mission to check out the local beaches. While I was at it I intended to find gas and a place to cash some traveler's checks. Both turned out to be difficult. I drove into Thira - the main town in Santorini. The problem with gas was that no gas stations took credit cards and I had no cash and could not find anywhere to cash the traveler's checks. I got to the point where I was quite worried - the gas was getting low and I was worried I didn't have enough to get back to Oia. I got directions to the National Bank where I should be able to cash the checks but for the life of me I simply could not find it. Finally, after about 6 or 7 passes back and forth by where everyone claimed the bank to be, I found it. I was able to cash the checks (I cashed them all - I was not going to let THAT happen again!) and went out looking for gas. I was really worried that the gas stations would be closed - it was after 4:00 by now - and as it turned out I did get to a station just before they closed. Success! My original intent to check out beaches was forgotten.

I got back to the room and we decided to go out for dinner. We looked around and ended up on the north side of the island where the streets were crowded with people waiting for the sunset. As we had a week in Santorini and plenty of time to enjoy the sunset we continued looking for a place to have supper. We ended up at Nectar and Ambrosia - a little place off the main drag with no view to speak of but a nice ambiance and what we would soon discover was the best food we would find in Santorini (which is why ended up returning several times).

I'm afraid I won't be able to blog all of what we ate - or the cost - at different restaurants we visited in Santorini but where I can I will. At Nectar and Ambrosia we had, for appetizers, a wonderful and unusual Waldorf salad as well as Tzatziki and Toubuli with pita. Charlotte had spinach ravioli, Andie had mushroom rizotto, Nat had hummus and I had a pumpkin ravioli in cream sauce. Everything was phenomenal. For dessert we had a delicious coconut cake with ice cream. The meal was spectacular although a bit expensive - 180 after tip (including 30 for the wine).

After dinner we went back to the house. Andie and I climbed the somewhat treacherous stairs that lead to the rooftop patio above the kitchen. We sat there for quite a while chatting and drinking wine and enjoying the cool night breeze and the wonderful views.



Tuesday

The next morning was, once again, gorgeous without a cloud in the sky. The whitewashed  buildings of Oia with their brightly colored (mostly blue) doors and rooftops set against the azure water in the Caldera and the pale blue sky is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. I think you could live there for years and never get tired of it.


The pink house seen center left is where we stayed.
At 10:00 Miranda brought us a breakfast of tomato, onion and feta omelet and a baguette. It was quite good but (spoiler alert) this was the last time we would see her. Anyway, we decided we wanted to go to the beach so we left at about 10:45 for Parissa Beach. On the way there, while passing through Thira, we decided that Kamari Beach looked easier to get to so we went there instead.

Kamari has a beautiful beach with a course, black sand. There were paths set up to allow you to get closer to the umbrellas and beach chairs while avoiding scalding your feet on the sand which can get very hot in the Greek sun. We entreated by one of the locals to pay a fee for the chairs - 5 for each umbrella. I don't know if this was a scam but having the chairs and umbrella was well worth it.



It was very nice swimming in the Mediterranean water, although you really had to commit and could not get in slowly. Also the shelf dropped off quickly once you got out a little way. Still, the water was refreshing and we enjoyed the swim.

We ate lunch at one of the restaurants that line the boardwalk bordering the beach. It was here that Nat (who is a vegan and, therefore, can have a hard time finding dishes with protien) discovered fava beans. Fava are grown locally and served at pretty much every restaurant in Santorini. And Nat loved them. We also had salad, a Greek sandwich, some wonderful grilled mushrooms and fried onions. Charlotte - who was more in the breakfast/dessert mood, had a waffle with ice cream and chocolate. The food was good and hearty and at about 50 not too expensive.

We left Kamari and drove back to Oia. There are 2 ways of getting from the south side of the island to Oia. One route is shorter and faster but much hillier. The other is longer and takes you through the flatter part of the island. We chose to drive the longer, flatter route which is also quite picturesque in places.






On the drive back we stopped at a market for fruit, oatmeal and soy milk. Everything was in Greek so finding soy milk proved a challenge but luckily on of the people that worked at the store spoke a little English and was able to steer me in the right direction. Once we got back to Oia we decided to make a reservation at a restaurant called Panorama (they appear to have locations in most of the Santorini villages). Well, this proved to be one of the only disappointments of the trip. The view was beautiful but we were hoping for a view of the sunset which their location did not provide. Also the food was fair at best. It was pretty typical of what you might expect in Greece - lamb, cheese pie, etc. In fact this would end up being our worst meal in Santorini - not awful just not great.

Again Andie and I finished off the day by spending the evening on the porch. It was a bit cooler but still a lovely evening.

Wednesday

I awoke at 5:00 on Wednesday expressly because I wanted to see the sunrise. It turned out that I did not have a good vantage point for watching the sun come up so I went back to bed and we slept until 11:00.

After a breakfast of oatmeal, toast, juice and coffee we drove to Thira. Thira is the largest town in Santorini and is also where the cruise ships port. Here is a tip for visiting Thira - if you see more that 3 ships in port don't bother. On this day I counted 5 ships and the village was extremely crowded. In fact Charlotte and I wanted to ride the cable car that goes down the extremely steep cliff to the port below, but the center of town was so crowded we could not even get through.


Since we arrived at about lunch time, and as our breakfast was small, we stopped at a restaurant called Sphynx with a lovely outdoor patio for lunch. The view was awesome and the fare was pretty typical - although the moussaka was excellent. A bit pricey at 85.

We then did some shopping in Thira - the shopping in Thira is very good but you have to know what to looks for. Sorry for the lack of pictures from Thira - we knew we were going shopping and nobody brought a camera.

We drove back to Oia, relaxed for a bit before going out for dinner - apologies again I don't recall where we had dinner that night.

After dinner Andie and I sat on the porch while Nat and Charlotte went for a walk. From the porch of our house we could look up at the walkways and we would hear voices drifting down from above, then we would see the elongated shadows of the owners of those voices, and finally we would see the people themselves. Our first indication that Nat and Charlotte were returning was the sound of their laughter drifting down over the stone walkways. They then told us all about their night walking around Oia, and the boys who tried to strike up a conversation by inviting them for w swim at their hotel. Yeah... that's not happening...

Thursday

After a leisurely morning and lunch at Lotza we ventured out to meet a private boat - captained by Captain Lampros - that we had hired for the afternoon. We went to Amoudi Bay - which is on the water at the bottom of the cliff from the main part of Oia - to meet up with our boat. 




Once we boarded and headed out, one of the first things we saw is a small outcropping of rocks where Andie and I went swimming several times when we came to Santorini for our honeymoon. We remarked to Captain Lampros that we went swimming here on our honeymoon and he said we could stop there on our way back since you could no longer get there by walking and you needed a boat to get there.

Our first stop was a small cove where there is a small shrine that is a tribute to some children that had been killed there in a storm. Despite the somewhat gruesome origins of the church it is now a terrific spot for swimming.





Our next stop was a hot springs in the volcano. As we approached I thought that the water was becoming shallow because of the change in color - but it was actually the sulfur in the water. We could also smell the sulfur. Captain Lampros could only go so far in, so we had to swim in the rest of the way. The further in we swam the warmer the water got. And the sulfur in the water felt very good against our skim. This was amaazing. Swimming in a volcano - how cool is that?

Next up Captain Lampros took us to a quaint fishing village - another beautiful swimming spot.



Finally we headed back to where we started and the small outcropping where Andie and I had gone swimming when we were here on our honeymoon. A short swim from the outcropping is a tiny rock island that boasts a concrete platform that, we had heard, was built during WWII. It was meant to be the foundation of an observation post we had heard, but it was never finished and the war ended. There is also a steep set of stairs leading to a second platform up, I would say, perhaps 20 feet from the water. While we were swimming we saw someone jump from this second platform into the water below. Nat, Charlotte and I decided this was something we had to try!




When we got up to the platform there were two young ladies - perhaps late teens or early twenties - trying to work up the courage to take the plunge. There was also a young man there - obviously a local - who showed us all up by jumping off with absolute impunity. Once we got up there we could understand their hesitation. Let me tell you. looking up from below is much different than looking down from above!  All you could see were the jagged rocks looking very threatening. When someone did jump off you could easily see that it was quite safe - but that didn't make it any easier.

Well, those two scared young ladies finally did it, and then I knew I had to as well. I did and it was awesome! Nat and Charlotte soon followed. Charlotte and I even did a second try. It was great.

One thing I have to say about this little outcropping. As I mentioned earlier, Captain Lampros said that you could not walk there anymore. He told us the trail was closed and the only way to get there was by boat. This seemed odd to me because there was quite a few people there and the only boat I saw was ours. More on that later...

That ended our day on the boat. I have to confess I don't recall the cost (I want to say about 200), but I will say that if you visit Santorini it is well worth it. It's a great way to see the island, including spots that are otherwise very difficult to get to.

For dinner we went to Pelican. OK food, mediocre service but an amazing view of the sunset. In fact, once the sun set it got a round of applause.





Friday

After another leisurely morning we decided to head to Amoudi Bay and see if we could get to that small rock outcropping. Well, Captain Lampros was wrong - we were indeed able to take the path to the outcropping. He was right however in that the path was closed. At least that's what we assumed from the metal gate with a "No Entry" sign on it that everyone was ignoring and walking past to get to the path. As we walked it was very clear why the path was condemned - with sinkholes big enough to swallow a VW. But still... not all that bad. Still passable. But then we got to the last bit, about a 40 foot span where the path had completely collapsed leaving only an 18-inch wide retaining wall. This 18-inch wide precipice dropped about 10 or 15 feet to the jagged rocks below.

Now, I am not the most sure-footed person in the world. I was not happy with this. All the while I was crossing this span I had visions of my wife and children weeping over the sight of my contorted and twisted body splayed across the rocks below. But maybe I'm being dramatic. Anyway - we all made it across without incident and had a nice relaxing afternoon of swimming and sun bathing. Well, for me it was as relaxing as it could be given I was obsessing on the return trip over that wall of certain death.

After barely surviving the return trip we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in Amoudi Bay. We had lunch at one of several outdoor establishments that grill fish and vegitables on open grills. 





Saturday

Sorry but I have no pictures from Saturday. After a leisurely morning we drove to Perissa Beach. Perissa is very similar to Kamari and honestly I could not necessarily recommend one over the other except that there were several somewhat annoying people hawking messages and trinkets at Perissa. We ate lunch at a restaurant called Poseidon. The food was good and at about €40 one of the better deals of the trip.

After our day at the beach we returned, got cleaned up and went out for another wonderful meal at Nectar and Ambrosia. Among other things I had an awesome chicken souvlaki and Nat had a delicious pomegranate campaign cocktail.

We walked around the village one last time after dinner. I had gotten a minor sunburn so I picked up some locally made olive aloe lotion at a vendor that was one of the most soothing lotions I have ever tried.

Sunday  - our last day in Santorini

On Sunday we woke early to pack, went shopping in Oia and drove to Amoudi for lunch.





We went to the airport to see if by chance there was an earlier flight. There was not so we drove to Thira and walked around a bit more before heading to the airport. We parked the car and - in accordance with the instructions of the car rental company - we parked in a public lot and locked the keys in the trunk. That seemed a bit odd but whatever.

We waited for our flight at a rooftop lounge where we had soggy, expensive sandwiches (a candy bar was €2.50) and were surrounded by smokers. Our flight was on time.

Some random thoughts:

I grew to love what I thought of as the sounds of Santorini. Laughter and conversations - in many languages - that drift up the stone walkways on the cool breezes. The sound of music playing in the distance. Dogs barking or cats mewing in the distance. The far off sound of a cruise ship horn.

If you are thinking of visiting Santorini, here are some things to consider:

Oia and especially Thira get crowded when ships are in port. The service is - how shall I say it - relaxed. There are a lot of smokers (this is Europe after all). Getting around Oia not only requires navigating many stairs, but even the "flat" walkways are uneven and change often.

Finally - some more random pictures. be sure to visit the pages with animals of Santorini and Nat's food pics.

Next up - Athens!


























      Animals of Santorini
      Nat's food pics
Next up, Athens
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1 comment:

  1. thanks for that blog!!! beautiful family. I had a lovely hour reading and travelling with all of you in the middle of a boring afternoon in this office. Thank you

    ReplyDelete