Published: October 12th 2010October 12th 2010
Our visit to Santorini began when we were tendered to the port of Athinios. In the morning those going ashore without a Holland America tour were tendered to a different port. Complaints from previous tours resulted in this change, where previously booked tours disembarked first, but then had to face the daunting choices of how to get to the top of the hill: walk (not a very good option up thousands of steps), by donkey (probably a worse option, though some come here just for an impressive donkey ride, but it does take a long time) or wait for the cable car (at about 36 passengers a trip in 6 separate side-by-side cars going up and 6 coming down at a time… at 3 minutes a trip to the top not a bad choice but the line can be long to wait for a lift).
Our native guide lives in Santorini during the tourist season, then lives in Athens during the off-season which starts around the end of October. Ours is the last HA cruise into this port this year, and from the smallish crowds we encountered, especially later on the beaches, it was clear that summer is over. Thira is
the correct name of this island, named for the Spartan Thirus who first ventured here in ancient times. The name Santorini is the popular name adopted from the Venetian influence when they were invited in to protect the locals (and stayed yearly 400 years).
There is no water on Santorini, yet the island is lush with plants that benefit from the porous volcanic soil. The harbor we arrived in is actually the remnants of a large volcanic crater that erupted in the second largest known eruption in the world over 1,000 years BC. The rim of the volcano forms the bulk of the land of a set of islands, including the largest Santorini, a C-shaped piece of land with a number of smaller separated islands on the open side. The porous soil captures the humidity of the night and this feeds the vegetation on this island which has no springs and receives almost no annual rainfall. Consequently for those inhabiting the island, water is a rather precious commodity. Wells can tap into water in the aquifer; but, the resulting water is a bit too salty for drinking, but adequate for other things such as watering plants, cleaning and even cooking
(obviously, there is no need to add salt when you cook). The volcanic soil also lends a special distinct taste to consumables grown on the island (such as grapes). Because of the high winds that cross the islands, the vines molded, folded back on themselves over and over again, into wreath-like objects capable of standing up to the strong winds and protecting the grapes. They make, and export, both a local red and white wine, and a special very sweet wine called Vinsanto. Vinsanto comes from white grapes, that are allowed to darken after picking (for a couple of weeks) until they are almost raison-like and produces a very sweet wine that is used for sacramental wine. Samples are available in local gift shapes, coming in small bottles made to resemble the crescent shape of the island.
The first village we visited was a 15 minute bus ride from Athinios to the top of the hill. Megalochori was the village our tour guide was from, and as we walked through its narrow streets she indicated the narrow passage that led up many steps towards her place. She rents, and her landlord has offered to expand her bedroom by twice the
area, if she chooses to return next year. This is done by excavation. Many of the houses are excavated out of the local soil, combined with limestone buildings that are visible above the ground. Most of the buildings have white walls, which get white washed each year leading up to Easter. From the port buildings in the distance perched high on the cliff ridge look at first as if there is snow atop the cliff, but are in fact the many buildings built close together that they blend into a large continuous trim to the mountain top. Openings to the buildings tend to be small, to protect against the intense heat, and also as protection from entry by invaders. Passageways tend to be very narrow and winding which provides protection from the wind, and except for a couple hours when the sun is directly overhead, protection against the sun. Shade from the walls during the day provides protection from the heat. For these reason, buildings are constructed in such close and meandering a manner.
Santorini is famous for its white walled buildings adorned with blue roofs, domes, window frames and trim. Our guide said this is related to the history
of Greece and the reason that blue and white are the colors of the Greek flag, which she also informed us comes in two designs. There is the Greek flag with nine horizontal blue and white stripes with a corner section in blue (not dissimilar from the US flag) with a centered white cross, showing the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church. Alternately, the Greek flag can also be just this corner section, a blue field with a white cross and no stripes. Blue is for the ocean that surrounds the peninsula that is Greece, and white for the white caps of the waves. Now her story gets a little questionable as she explained the reason for the nine stripes: saying that the five white lines are for each of the continents and the four blue stripes are for the four oceans: the thing is there are 5 blue stripes on the flag and only 4 white stripes.
There are 365 churches on the island, one for each day of the year, literally. Every day has its own religious holiday, and each has a church dedicated just to that day. For many of the churches, that is the only day
during the year that the church is used, for celebration of that particular day. Because there are so many churches, it is not uncommon for two or three churches to be located literally right next to each other.
After a 40 minute casual stroll thru Megalochori we continued by bus to Eborio Village to visit the ruins of the medieval Fort Kasteli. We saw parts of the outer wall, and went through the main entrance, and saw just how thick the limestone walls were. Today, and since the castle walls were used for protection, we can see how parts of the castle have been converted for use as homes and businesses. We also saw a number of “Captain’s Houses” with architectural influences from the west. These were originally built and owned by ship captains from this area, who on their voyages abroad brought back architectural ideas of buildings they’d seen to build impressive mansions. As captains they had the wealth of their ventures to fund these impressive homes.
The Venetian influence dwindled with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and pirates which were semi-officially endorsed by the empire. Pirates posed a threat to local villagers, and the Venetians eventually advised
locals to take care of themselves as best they could. We had another leisurely stroll through this village.
Our final stop was at the volcanic beach of Perissa, with its endless stretch of intriguing black sand. This world-famous resort is at the heart of summertime entertainment. Perissa is the most popular beach on the island with a wide variety of taverns, restaurants and beach bars. Sharon and I lounged at a local café, on what can only be described as a beach-front café, overlooking the beach and the water less than one hundred feet away. The water was the wonderful aqua blue marine color, almost translucent, that we’ve come to associate with the Adriatic, Ionian and now Aegean seas. And yes, we both had some more ice cream: Sharon had a sundae of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla with chocolate chunks; John had the “Chicago” featuring 3 scoops of dark chocolate ice cream. Needless to say, they make very good ice cream in this part of the world. We had an hour to lounge on the black sand beach, and some from our tour took advantage of the opportunity to wade into the water. There are now real waves to speak
of; the water was very still, with only some minor small breakers just before the beach.
Finally, the bus took us into Santorini, up the hill. We walked along the ridge about 15 minutes, following signs directing us to the cable car. We rode the car down, the line about 30 minutes before the 5:30 closing appeared long, but moved quite quickly, and it beat trying to walk down the hill or riding the donkeys. And besides, our tour came with a coupon to ride the cable car. There are an impressive array of jewelry and artisan shops along the top, some selling very pricy items, while those right next door are selling those catering to tourist masses with prices in the under 10 Euro range. And there are also a number of street vendors with their wares for sale on the cobbled alleyways.
We quickly changed and headed to the Dining room. I convinced Sharon to order the Tiki Chicken Skewers with peanut sauce for me, while I had another that I can’t remember. Sharon tried the chicken and said it was good, and I ate the rest with peanut sauce and it really was quite nice. We
both had the beef bouillon vegetable pot soup, which we both enjoyed. And we both had prime rib and baked potato that was delicious. Sharon had the crème Brule and I had the pecan tort.
We were invited to the Captain’s Cocktail party and stopped in for one-half hour, and got to shake hands with the captain, Hotel Manager and cruise director. But other than the opportunity to rub elbows with other frequent cruisers and get a free drink or two (which we didn’t indulge in) we had a nice chat with another fellow passenger. We thought it was a bit unusual that the captain was actually shaking hands after the Captain on our Australia/New Zealand cruise made such a big deal of not shaking hands as a health precaution aboard ship. Next we stopped by the casino, where John’s luck continued at blackjack, and after a nice run of cards John took his quick profits and watched Sharon in quest of the perfect machine… She’s still looking.
We then headed to the Piano Bar for Name That Tune Broadway style. He’d play a few notes of a song and we’d have to write down the Broadway Show. We
couldn’t find anyone to join our team till near the end when another couple came in and gave us the answer to the one for Rent. Somehow we ended up getting 7/12 right which was pretty good since the winners only had 9.
All in all another wonderful day.
There are more photos below