Issy has a really bad cold. She‘s taking every medication known to man plus some that haven't been invented yet, but all to no avail. This is very unfortunate timing for her. I go exploring while she rests up. I walk down towards Fira town. There’s a cruise ship in and it gets more and more crowded as I go. I hear a lady complaining that she has to climb too many steps to get to her hotel; I think that maybe she should have come to somewhere a bit flatter than Santorini. It is now insanely crowded, and I hear a tour group leader constantly yelling "number one group this way", so that his charges don't all get lost. The whole town is narrow alleys. I have a map, but it's not a lot of use because none of the streets are sign-posted. I walk back up the hill past our hotel and on to Firostefani village and beyond, and manage to find the stunning view from above the famous blue domed church.
Issy is still feeling very crook. We had pre-booked a tour, so she ignores her cold and we set off with our guide Kostas. He tells
that he studied archaeology before becoming a tour guide, and it seems that he is now a walking encyclopaedia of Santorini. He says that there was virtually no tourism in Santorini until a movie called 'Summer Lovers' was made here in the mid 1980s, but there are now about 15,000 permanent residents and 120,000 tourists here at any one time.
Kostas says that the Santorini caldera is 900 metres deep, which seems pretty deep considering the cliffs around the edge, which look gigantic to us, are only 300 metres high. He tells us that Jacques Costeau once tried to find the bottom of the caldera in one of his submarines, but without success. Apparently Santorini’s earlier inhabitants lived in caves they dug into the rocks in the hillside, and they hid in them whenever they saw pirates or invaders approaching. He says that the theory was that invaders wouldn't see much point in invading an island with no people on it, and that pirates wouldn't bother coming if there was no one to steal from.
Apparently almost no one is born in Santorini; the healthcare system here is so bad that everyone goes to Athens to give birth.
Kostas shows us a recently finished hospital, which has never opened because the government can't afford to pay for any staff. The discussion inevitably turns to the current financial crisis. Kostas says the people will vote against austerity measures, because if they don't then things will just get progressively worse with no end in sight.
Kostas says that next time we come we must go to the island of Ios. He tells us that it‘s bigger than Santorini, with lovely white sand beaches, and very few tourists, and that he goes there for his holidays with his family.
We stop for some more stunning views of the caldera from a different angle. We then drive on to Akrotiri, which is a large archaeological site of a Minoan town from 1,500 BC. Apparently there are more ruins under this ruin which are somewhere around 5,000 years old. Kostas shows us pictures of lots of frescoes, which appear to indicate that the original inhabitants visited and traded with the Egyptians. He says the town had sewers and toilets, which seems fairly impressive for 5,000 years ago. The original town was wiped out by a volcanic eruption, and archaeologists have found
volcanic rocks here the size of beach balls which apparently rained down at somewhere around 300 kilometres per hour during the eruption. It sounds like that might have been a good day to be somewhere else. The whole area has now been put undercover in a building with solar powered windows and lots of other mod cons aimed at preserving everything.
Our next stop is Red Beach. Kostas says they tried to close land access to this a few years ago because of rock falls. We see a sign at the entrance saying you can't go in, but judging by the number of people on the beach and the number of permanent sun lounges, the sign is a waste of space. The beach is spectacular.
Next stop is a cafe where we sample the local produce. There are capers growing everywhere, and the locals use the leaves for cooking. Kostas tells us that the lady who runs the cafe was once on a cooking show with Jackie Chan, in an episode showing Chinese people how to make Greek coffee. It was supposed to include a lot about feta cheese until someone pointed out that a lot of Chinese
people are lactose intolerant and can't eat feta cheese. The lady had to travel about ten kilometres to the village of Oia to film the show, which terrified her because she'd never travelled that far before.
Next stop is Perissa Beach, which is black sand. I think I'm too Aussie; I don't think I could ever get used to a black sand beach. There's miles of it, and it looks like dirt. It‘s all lined with sun lounges which you can rent for 25 Euro per day, and is clearly very popular, despite the dirty looking sand.
We drive uphill to the Profit Elias Monastery which is at the highest point on the island, and is home to around ten monks. It is very unexpectedly green inside due to something the monks do with the water...and there are trees. Just about the only other trees we've seen on the island are gum trees imported from Australia. Kostas says that he is very disappointed that the trees didn't come with koalas. There is a very small chapel at the monastery; it‘s so small that there‘s no room for a congregation. The views from the monastery are stunning.
drive down to Pyrgios village, which Kostas says is a typical Santorini village without the tourists; and there do indeed seem to be virtually no tourists here. The village is a labyrinth of narrow windy streets, and there is a church on the top of each hill. Kostas tells us that a lot of the people here also have private chapels attached to their houses. We assume that these are used by the families to pray in, but Kostas says that most Greeks aren't into praying, and the chapels only get used very occasionally.
Our final stop for the day is a winery on the edge of the caldera. There are grape vines all over the island, but we didn't recognise them as such until Kostas told us what they were. They sprawl flat on the ground, so they don't look at all like the grape vines we’re used to seeing back home. I have no idea how anything can grow here; there is no evidence of soil, just lots of small rocks. Kostas tells us about the smart engineering at the winery. They pour the grapes in at the top of the caldera and then use gravity for
the rest of the process, ending with the wine flowing through pipes directly to barrels in ships in the port below. The only wine tasting I've ever done before involved standing at a bar, taking a small sip from a thimble sized glass, swirling it around in my mouth a few times pretending I could tell that it tasted different to any other wine I'd ever tasted, and then spitting it into a barrel. It seems that they do things a bit differently here. We are directed to sit at a small table overlooking the caldera and presented with four bucket-sized glasses each, all filled with different varieties of the local brew. We look for the spitting barrel, but this is noticeably absent. As Issy launches into her third glass she says that she is now feeling much better, and is wondering why she didn't think to start drinking copious quantities of wine when she first got sick. We finish our glasses and stagger up the stairs into Kostas' van. Issy's euphoria has now evaporated and she is feeling worse by the second. On the way back Kostas stops at a chemist so we can get something to try to
make her feel a bit better. The chemist is on the other side of the busy road from where we have parked. I‘m still feeling the effects of the wine, so I look the wrong way and Kostas pulls me back as I’m about to walk into the path of a very fast moving car. I think he just saved me from something very nasty. We get back to Homeric Poems and stumble into bed.
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