Day 2 – Santorini by Scooter
Maybe it was the (light) drinking, maybe it was the long active days, but I managed to sleep through the entire evening, still escaping jetlag. The day started much like the first, with a quick dip in the quiet cove by the apartment and a swim out to the small St. Nicholas church built into a floating rock (a.k.a – an island).
It was also my first opportunity to see the village of Oia up-close in the daylight, and it was even more impressive than it had been yesterday. The way the buildings all appear to join, and meld into one another, and their (mostly) homogenous colour and organic shapes was mesmerising. Then, when you consider the location, and the backdrop, it was everything it is hyped up to be – and this was just my first taste.
While walking around town last night, we found a place to rent a scooter for the day. The plan was to go explore more of the island, and be free of the scheduling of bus timetables (and without the worries/stress of finding parking). The small scooter was only €30 for the day, which was far cheaper than taxis, too.
We started by navigating the twisting roads that followed the crest of the caldera south from Oia. Traffic was light, as it’s not the quickest route in/out of Oia, limited mostly to other tourists like us (and the ones that didn’t have bike licenses and were stuck with ATVs).
It didn’t take too long to get to Thira/Thera/Fira. First impression as we approached was to just continue onwards towards the archaeological site at Akrotiri, as Thira looked like everything I hate when travelling. It was noisy, tacky, and chaotic – and none of them in a charming/interesting way. The alleys were crowded and overflowing with souvenir shops – but, they seemed to lack the charm and subtlety of Oia. This was like being back in seaside towns in Turkey, with the stupid t-shirts and other novelty items. It was right about now that I’d realised how spoilt I’d been yesterday, when I thought that Oia was as bad as it got! Maybe it was just because I was so spoilt that Thira had come as such a shock. Maybe if this was my first taste of the island I’d have rolled with it a little better. Anyway, if anyone reads this, I have one suggestion – don’t book accommodation in Thira! Visit once, sure, but don’t stay here!
The hustle of Thira disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared, and before long things were quiet and beautiful again – more or less, if you ignore the trucks/buses/taxis/cars/ATVs/scooters all trying to race around you. It’s a small-ish island, so at least it doesn’t take too long to cross, and before too long, we were at Akrotiri, near the south-western tip of the island.
Akrotiri is a Minoan archaeological site, with the remnants of a bronze-age village that was buried during one of the earlier volcanic events that have shaped this island. Unlike Pompeii, the residents here had enough time to flee with their lives.
The area is a slow work in progress, as the researchers dig their way down through the flow that buried the settlement. It’s actually incredible to see just how large these old buildings were – and the quality of finishing that was possible in their construction.
There was a short video that created featured a simulation of how one of the larger houses would have looked at the time, and it completely changed the way I saw the ruins. I can’t wait for the day that places like this start to make use of Augmented Reality to try and overlay the simulation onto what is left of the ruins.
I felt a little better about myself, having now done something mildly cultural.
Only a short distance from Akrotiri was Red Beach, which, believe it or not, is a red-ish beach. It was later in the day, though temperatures were still at levels that made swimming desirable. This, combined with a bit of a lack of beach swimming options on the island made it quite a crowded experience.
We weren’t sure if it was even officially open, as there were barriers and signs that had been erected (and dutifully shifted out of the way) due to the history of landslides. The trail down to the beach from the car park itself was kind of sketchy, bolstered by some very improvised guardrails and slippery descents.
But, even with those minor complaints, it was wonderful to be able to float in the sea, and lie in the sun (thanks to the protection of my new black-magic sunscreen).
But, as tempting as it was to see how long my sun protection would really last, we had things to see, and places to be – and this included sunsets to watch.
On the route back to Oia, we stopped at Venetsanos Winery. We missed the guided tour, but did a quick self-guided walk through their old processing equipment, which was actually quite genius. Rather than building tanks and other pieces of the processing pipeline, they dug them, allowing them to make use of gravity to do some of the work.
But, it was the views (and the quality of the wine) that were the main attractions. I did a sampling of their local wines, from dry whites, to rosé, and the syrupy-nectar like fortified wine. Plus, their food was amazing, so much so that I raced to eat it, before giving the camera a chance to also enjoy it.
It was now a bit of a mad rush to get back to Oia to witness in the sunset, as this was going to be the last evening in Santorini. I’d previously talked about how small the island is, and how it didn’t take long to get places… well, seems that only is valid if you’re actually not paying attention to time, or in a hurry to be somewhere. The roads were less-than-fantastically signed, which meant multiple stops to check on maps. We were nearly at Oia, but realised that we would miss it, given that realistically we’d need to be in a position some time before the sun sets to get the best views.
So, rather than miss it, I stopped and caught it from a small beach near Oia. While it might not have the glamour of watching the terraced houses glow in the evening glow, it was still the same beautiful light show, and without another person around. There was even a washed up shipping pallet as a substitute for a bench.
I was mildly concerned about riding a scooter around the island after dark, so rather than linger for the full gamut of the sunset, we hopped back on, returned the scooter, and then fought through the swarms of people returning from the sunset to catch a final glimpse of the magic. To be honest, this is my favourite time, when the lights start coming on in the buildings, and the sun is no longer such a bright shining object. The colours mature, deeper and richer, and the fade to the darkness of space starts to encroach.
I’d be lying if I said that fatigue wasn’t starting to catch up with me. It’d been a busy two days, and I was in an almost opposite time zone. My body had done well, but there would be no late night wine bars, and nightcap shots of tequila tonight.
Day 3 – Hiking Oia to Thira
I still managed to sleep through the night, feeling like I’d somehow cheated my way out of jet lag. The great benefit of not staying in Oia, but rather below it, was that a swim in the usual little cove was nearly private. As the day goes on, it gets incredibly busy.
The downside of being down here, is that we have to hike up 260 (they’re painted, almost in a mocking fashion) steps to get up to the rim of the caldera. Not such a problem under normal circumstances, but a whole lot harder when you’re carrying nearly 20kg on your shoulders.
Walking through the narrow alleys of Oia, with large packs and hiking gear, certainly drew some curious looks.
Santorini was a little luxury experience before the adventure starts, and that adventure needs camping equipment, which means we need to hike everywhere with it. Sadly, I forgot to start the Strava recording until I was already well upon the way, and at the top-ish of the caldera.
The actual hike itself was quite easy, save for the load we were each carrying, and the temperatures, which continued to climb. Thankfully there was generally a breeze, which gave some small comfort, as there was no shade.
It didn’t take long to leave the last of the hotels and houses of Oia behind, and start on the gradual ascent around the caldera. It was distracting to know where to look, as there were amazing views both in front, as well as behind.
There was a small, but steady, stream of people walking towards Oia, and I can’t deny that I wasn’t jealous of their light little backpacks.
I also can’t deny that I wasn’t jealous of the people in their luxury accommodation, sipping cocktails in swimming pools, looking out over this view. I think I wanted more now that I was really feeling the effects of the heat without shade and respite from the sun. But, once again, my magical miracle sunscreen kept me free of sunburn.
It was a gentle hike, taking our time and enjoying the views, stopping for quick breaks as needed – however, we had a ferry to Crete to catch, and needed to make sure we made it to Thira in time to catch a bus to the port, so couldn’t dawdle too much.
After long stretches of next to no structures or signs of humans (other than seeing other humans, and the hiking trail, which was clearly made by humans, for humans), the clusters of white buildings clinging to the crests of the caldera started popping up again as we approached Thira. It was both beautiful, but also a little conflicting, that I enjoyed seeing this dense development, spreading and covering every spec of space with concrete and structures.
In case you’re wondering, we made it to Thira with enough time to grab some souvlaki (and a couple of bottles of well earnt icy cold Coke), navigating the mess of the bus station, and then further navigating the mess at the port to board on time.
We watched as the peaks of Santorini disappeared into the distance, before sitting back and giving my knees and back and lovely rest inside the air conditioning. Next stop, Crete!