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Published: September 18th 2009
Any room tonight?You always save the best for last. And Santorini is truly the best. But I must say, it is not that easy to decide on that. Rhodes impressed me a lot. And Crete is something else. But Santorini took my breath away!
Aside from Hotel Atlantis, this lodging place grabbed our attention. It was just a door, then a stairway down to the lobby. On vaulted roofs, we found many shoeprints --- and imagined many snapshots taken right here.
Lost Continent of Atlantis?
Imagine this. Five thousand years ago, the island was believed to be a sophisticated outpost of Minoan civilization. Then catastrophe happened. Around 1450 BC, the volcanic island erupted.....its "heart" sank below the sea, and the earth shook all around and across the Aegean. Thira, which is how Santorini was called then and even now, was wiped off the earth along with the great Minoan civilization. Atlantis, called as such to mean "Happy Isle" was a lost isle, completely submerged by the sea. Ancient philosophers like Plato wrote of this Happy Isle on Egyptian papyri, yet no such island could be found now. No human skeletons were also found, making one wonder if the islanders were warned by some volcanic activity before the major eruption. But where did they go? Did they all leave the island on boats, only to be engulfed by tidal waves ?
We Took the Cable Car
No donkey rides, we took the cable car on the way down, where tenders were waiting to bring us back to our boat early evening. Oh, the waves!!!!
Oia and Fira
The island's capital is Fira, while the second major town, Oia, can be found on the northern tip of the island. We took in the views of both Fira and Oia as our boat neared the island of Thira. Every passenger must be out on the deck happily snapping away. Excitement builds up as we were divided into groups to ride tenders to take us to the island. Perhaps because we were dripping with excitement, the wait seemed unbearably long. By the time we reached the island and rode the bus to go first to Oia, we were almost weak with impatience. The children seemed to be noisier, the teenagers more unruly, and the senior folks seemed to be dragging themselves off the boat and on the bus.
The bus ride took almost an hour. Along the way, we passed vineyards and quaint whitewashed stone houses. The vineyards are not your typical vineyards. The vines seem to form circles , then left laid out on soil. A strange way of growing grapes. I would have wanted the bus to stop so I can take photos, and better explain myself
Still no donkey ride........we walked!
here. But if you're reading this, you just have to take my word for it and let your imagination take over.
Picturesque Oia took our breath away. The place looked just as pretty as the postcards and posters . Perched at the summit of the caldera, the whitewashed stone houses with blue domes framed by the very blue waters was a sight that could accommodate a whole afternoon of doing nothing. As soon as our bus parked, Shelly and I lost no time walking towards the caldera. We chose to walk ahead non-stop while others in our group stopped for photos here and there. It proved to be a good idea. We shook off the urge to stop and take photos and simply walked on and on, away from the crowd. As we gained some distance from the rest of the pack, we then confidently paused and walked over a number of vaulted roofs to take photos of the stunning views. We knew we were not the first to get there, as we found footprints or rather, shoeprints on the whitewashed vaulted roofs. We checked out a number of lodging places here, most of which simply
had a door with its signage, and a path going down to its lobby. Amazing. Almost always, we would find a single door, a stairway behind it, and not too far away a blue dome and a bell tower. Just like in the posters. From where we stood, we found balconies jutting out from the cliff, a porch here and there, more stairways leading to we don't know where, and an amazing vista of the sea where we found our boat, tiny from a distance, all by itself. The cruising season has just begun and we must be the first boat to dock here this season. I wondered again if 90%!o(MISSING)f all the tourists I see roaming around here disembarked from the same Aquamarine boat. Very likely.
Some of the guys with us opted for the boat ride around the island. Now, pray tell me, why would anyone on a cruise get off from the boat and hop on a smaller boat to cruise around the island? Shelly wouldn't want me to answer that. Anyway, Atlantis the 'Happy Isle' lives on in Santorini. I can live here! I can imagine myself unfolding my folding chair
Lovely Cliffside Houses
I can live here..........
over one of those vaulted roofs, a flute of champagne on hand, nibbling some of those nuts we tried on our way here from the parking lot, and watching the sun rise and set. In between, there is always a good book to read. That's life.
We may have lost track of the time until we found many behind us rushing towards the parking lot. This time, we went with the crowd and took our seats on the bus. Next and final stop would be Fira, the island's capital. Same blue-domed houses in dazzling white, a few bells here and there, and here, we even get a wider view of the cliffside houses. There are more opportunities to shop here as Shelly darted in and out of those souvenir shops while I waited outside lingering over some paintings and pottery by local artists. Every now and then, some tourists would stop and ask me to take their photos. By the 3rd time, I have found the perfect spot, lighting and angle so that I would orchestrate how and where they should stand and pose. One time, i had all 3 cameras dangling from my shoulders to
There were many such corners with breathtaking vistas here in Oia and Fira.
take one photo after another. So now, I know I could also earn a living here.
By the time we were done, we all trooped to the cable car station. Again, no donkey rides for Shelly and myself. More so now that it was getting darker. We saw some teenagers walking down the 600 or so steps of the zigzag cliff path. We also heard some others screaming with delightful laughter as their donkeys "rushed" down the same path. The cable car ride we took was the last one in the island. A long line has formed and we had a lively chat with others in the line as we waited for our ride. Four Euros down the cliff and then we were ready to get on the tenders waiting to take us back to our boat. Another line. As we waited, we watched the tenders bob up and down as the waves were going crazy now. While on line, we waited and watched the passengers before us gingerly take a few steps, pause and jump on the tender.........making sure they time their leap when the wave 'lifts' up the tender. Gee, can I do that?
Then , the crowds spoiled it all!
By late afternoon, the whole boat must have disembarked by now and crowded out all the touristy spots. Hmmm....
I braced myself for that 'leap of faith'. Frankly, I was waiting to see how an older person would do it. But it seems all the oldies have gone earlier, with only the teens and middle-aged tourists braving that last cable car ride from Fira. I dare not breathe a word . Shelly had no clue i was getting cold feet. I blame it again on my Nanjing Misadventure ( Misadventure in Nanjing, China (2007)
Finally, On Board, Then Back to Piraeus
As we reached our boat, we remembered that tonight is our last night as we sail back to Piraeus tomorrow.
Too lazy to dress up for dinner now. Shelly and I opted to dine leisurely in the lounge and retire early. Of course we didn't sleep right away. We made sure we were all packed before going off to dreamland, making sure we only need to pack our PJs and toiletries in the morning.
When we got off the boat, we were in luck to find a waiting taxi to bring us back to Athens. Cost us 20 euros. We could have taken the bus but decided
we can afford this luxury. We were not exactly tired, but just a bit wary as we have been hearing all about these pier strikes and more street rallies. Besides, we were eager to get back to Hotel Athenais where we left our big bags and where we hope to be able to check in earlier than usual to freshen up. As soon as we reached our hotel, we flicked on our TV and listened to the local news. Naturally, it all sounded Greek to us, but we heard enough to make out that there is again a brewing strike at the Port of Piraeus! Yay.
The rest of the day was spent at the Plaka. Shelly and I waited a long time for the bus, only to find out later that the bus we were waiting for detoured and won't stop at the station where we were waiting. Shelly found this young, pretty Greek lass who very kindly instructed us to ride a different bus with her , and then walk with her to the corner just off the Plaka. What an angel! From that corner, we bade her adieu and then we walked towards
We were truly in good spirits here as we roamed around Oia and Fira. Something magical about the place.
the Plaka where Shelly was in her elements again. We visited the same store Shelly checked out the last time. This store was owned by an elderly man who claims to hail from Crete. He must be in his '80s, and he was so pleased to see Shelly back in his store. Yani, that's his name, said Shelly told him the last time that she would be back, but never expected her to make good on that. This old man chatted with us and told us so many stories it would make for at least 4 chapters in a book. He regaled us with the story from his roots in the Greek island of Crete about the Minotaur (Cruising the Aegean Sea: Crete
)and lovingly called us Princess and Queen. Shelly bought quite a number of art pieces from him, and each time Shelly mulls over whether to buy the item or not, he would distract her by giving us gifts "for the Princess, and for the Queen". When he learned that Shelly is actually my sister's daughter, he started giving us a third gift "for the Queen Mother". Oh, Yani can be so funny. I suspect he does not intend to earn any money
from his store, and simply spends his idle hours there to find tourists like us to chat with. He is also very intelligent, and quite a linguist, as we heard him speak Spanish, then French , then Italian , to some tourists visiting his store . A few times, some tourists would be asking for some items that by now we have grown familiar with after an hour's stay in that store, and Shelly would fetch the item for them, acting like the old man's assistant. That may have endeared her to Yani, who then proceeded to tell us about a daughter who lives in another town and has absolutely no interest to man the shop for him. Poor Yani. He does have a melancholy aura about him. By the time we left Yani's store, the Princess, the Queen and the Queen Mother each has 4 gifts from Yani --- a necklace, a bracelet, and a couple of keychains.
Before going back to the hotel, we decided to have an early dinner at the Plaka. We found this joint where we enjoyed really good gyros. We have opted out of tzaziki and kofta balls by this
How about it, Shelly?
We both love this place.The stunningly attractive setting makes for a super background for this shot.
time, having had enough of that before and during our cruise. After this early dinner, we waited at the corner station for our bus. We waited for nearly an hour, only to find out that our bus again detoured and will pick up passengers a couple of blocks away. We should have taken the metro instead!
Our last morning in Athens was even more exciting. Athenais Hotel is just a few meters from the US Embassy here. Having checked out, we waited for our ride to the airport only to learn that the rally in front of the US Embassy blocked off any passing cars. We managed to drag our suitcases across the street to the next block where the car was waiting to whisk us to the airport. As we were trying to fit our 2 suitcases in the car trunk, our driver sensed the rallyists starting to walk away from the Embassy and towards us. We almost threw our carry-on bags into the backseat with our driver sliding into his seat and driving away ........... just as the first line of rallyists were just a couple of steps behind our car!!!! We could have
Next time we are back here, we'd check in at this hotel. Hope it lives up to its magical name!
gone stuck right there with all those protesters! My, we are in luck again. We were so relieved to reach the airport a good hour and a half before our flight time. Yani must be praying for us!!!
As our plane took off , Shelly and I felt all the tension ebb as our bodies relaxed and our minds started to wander off. Shelly remembered that she failed to tow away her sandals, and prayed her tulip-shaped tea glasses didn't break when we almost threw our carry-on bags in the backseat of the car. But we took comfort in that a lost pair of sandals and broken tea glasses would have been better than missing this flight. With that, we end this chapter on our Turkish and Greek Delights . C'est la vie!
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