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Published: April 1st 2016
I woke up on Thursday morning very tired because I was up late publishing my previous blog entry. We arrived in Santorini early in the morning and I could not believe what I was seeing. The Aegean was like glass and the sunrise was created a mesmerising pattern of blue, pink and white reflecting off the water. And then I looked up and realised the ship was almost completely surrounded by massive cliffs with white tops that kind of looked like snow.
I had heard that Santorini was the caldera of a volcano that exploded in the 17th
century BC, but I had no idea exactly what that would be like. To be inside the caldera, sailing on the crystal blue sea, was out of this world. I could almost believe I was dreaming. And then I realised why the tops of the cliff were white – they were the towns of Santorini. It took me some time to realise the scale of what I was seeing.
After breakfast we boarded the tenders provided by Santorini to be taken ashore. A member of the Aegean Odyssey’s crew referred to them as Santorini’s boat mafia because the union does not
allow visiting cruise ships to use their own tenders. It made little difference to us passengers but I was impressed at the docking manoeuvre performed by the skipper of our tender – a hook to starboard and cut the engine so we drifted perfectly up to the dock.
We boarded buses and began climbing the cliffs in a series of switchbacks. I couldn’t help but wonder how a full-sized bus made the manoeuvres required, but our guide ensured us we had the best bus driver on Santorini. And besides, she continued, you know all of the drivers on Santorini are good because the bad ones are dead!
Our first destination was the northernmost tip of Santorini – the village of Oia. Along the way we had some spectacular views looking into the caldera. The view to the east was less impressive because the land flattens out on that side. We arrived in Oia and the bus parked in a car park on the edge of the village. From there we continued on foot, but it wasn’t far. Our group arrived in the main square, probably to the frustration of the photographer and two models who were trying to
conduct a photo shoot. I sympathised because other tourists are the bane of my photography at times too.
After a quick orientation by our guide, we were left to our own devices. The village has the iconic look of white houses with blue highlights and would make for some great photos. Unfortunately, the downside of arriving here first was that the sun wasn’t in the best position for a lot of shots. Yes, I’m blaming the sun again for my photos not being as good as they could be! Still, I think some came out alright and I hope they give you some idea of how picturesque the town, and the island, is.
I headed back to the bus a bit early because I needed to down some caffeine, but we were soon on our way. Our next stop was the main reason for us visiting Santorini. Back when the volcano exploded three and a half millennia ago, there was a thriving Bronze Age community living on the island. Not much is known about them, but the archaeological site of Akrotiri was discovered relatively recently and the excavation began in 1967. The civilisation seems to have been related
to the Minoans of Crete which is not far away. Some people claim they were the inspiration for the island of Atlantis.
Akrotiri is on the southern side of the island so we had a bit of a bus ride to get there. This time we travelled on the low road on the flat eastern side so it was not as spectacular. Once at the site we headed in. The current excavation is only a small fraction of what is believed to have been buried in the volcanic eruption and it is all housed under one massive roof. The excavation has been going quite slowly apparently and not just because of money. Ironically, it’s because they have found too much. They cannot process all the artefacts already uncovered so there is no point looking for more just yet.
The whole site is covered in volcanic ash so it almost looks like it’s from the moon. The public is allowed to walk around the site on a walkway and it gives a pretty good view of things. There’s not a lot I can tell you, because there’s not a lot known about the civilisation. But it was pretty cool
walking around and looking at a civilisation that was trapped in time. Unlike Pompeii, however, there have not been any people discovered buried in the volcanic debris. This is probably because they had up to ten days’ notice before the eruption; from earthquakes and smaller, less explosive eruptions. If that is true, they probably fled to Crete. The other possibility is that they fled to another part of the city, one that has not been excavated yet.
It was a nice change to walk around the site under a roof, but to be honest it isn’t all that big so being out in the sun would not have been too onerous anyway. From there we headed to lunch at a Greek restaurant before being driven to the capital of Santorini, Thira. Here we were led up from where the bus dropped us off to the cliff top. It was a fairly steep walk so it took a while for everyone to get up the top. That was fine by me because it gave me a bit extra time to take photos without having to fight for the good positions.
Our tour ended there and we were given directions
to the cable car which would take us down to the port. We had all afternoon to get back to the ship though so we had the opportunity to look around. I was pretty tired by this point so I did a little souvenir shopping and had an ice cream before heading to the cable car. Some other passengers regaled us with tales of what it is like in peak tourist season. Apparently the wait for the cable car can be two hours! That’s probably not surprising considering the population of the island goes from 15,000 to 130,000 during the summer. Thankfully I did not have to wait that long and I got back to the ship at 4 o’clock. I didn’t do much else besides have a nap.
I was really surprised by Santorini but I don’t know why. I first heard about Akrotiri when I visited the archaeological museum in Athens back in 2008, so I knew there was more to the island than just a summer holiday / party island. But I had not expected the caldera to be so stunning. I can understand why it is such a popular destination, although I have
no plans to visit during peak tourist season!
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