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Published: October 15th 2016
Another perfect day, another Greek island. Today it's Santorini!
I suspect many readers have been to Santorini or at least know something about the island. It is truly unique in the world, and that uniqueness stems from its geological history. Very briefly, in 1450 B.C. Santorini was a typical Greek island with a bronze-age civilization dominated by fishermen—except that the island had been gradually formed over millennia by a volcano. In that year, the volcano blew up. It was the largest explosion in recorded history, bigger than any nuclear blast so far. Everyone and everything within a few hundred miles was vaporized. The island itself was shattered into a broken semi-circular ring of islands outlining the original circumference of the island, with a huge caldera in the middle, that was filled by the sea. An enormous tsunami swept the Mediterranean and wiped out the Minoan civilization on nearby Crete. (See the previous blog post for more information.) The dust and ash thrown into the air by the explosion caused a cooling of the entire planet for several years afterward that resulted in failed crops. Santorini remained uninhabited for several centuries after the explosion.
We are tendered to shore from
the ship. "Shore" in Santorini means the base of a huge vertical cliff forming part of the inside wall of the caldera. We meet our guide, Alexandria, who has a lovely personality and an easy laugh. Once the group is assembled, we hop on to a water taxi to Anthinios, Santorini's main commercial port, where a bus is waiting.
Our first destination is the top of Mount Elias, the island's highest peak. The full-size coach has to negotiate switchback after switchback to reach it. The view is superb. We can see the entire Santorini archipelago of islands from here, including the new one gradually forming in the caldera's centre, an indication that the volcano is not dead but only sleeping. In fact, in 1956 a powerful earthquake caused extensive damage all over the island.
Back on the bus, we descend the mountain and head to the north end of the main island to visit the town of Oia (pronounced "ee-a"), reputedly the island's prettiest location. The entire village clings to the top of a sheer cliff, and in fact in many places descends the precipice by dint of buildings based on caves and ledges in the rock. Alexandria
View from Oia
leads us on foot into the tiny, twisting streets of the town. Every beautiful white-washed building is either a shop, a restaurant or a hotel. Or a blue-domed church, one of the island's signature sights. Even though it's a tourist trap and the prices are ridiculous, it is impossible not to love this town. Every turn leads to another iconic view.
After an hour's free time in Oia, we reunite with Alexandria and the bus and head for Santos winery, the largest of the many wineries on the island. Agriculture on the island is interesting. On the one hand, the weather is extremely dry. On the other, the soil is rich in minerals, thanks to its volcanic origins. The result? Fruits and vegetables that are often dwarf but exceedingly tasty. This is true of grapes as well. The grape vines that grow here have evolved over centuries to produce small but very juicy grapes. Santorini is extremely proud of its wine—and its potency.
The Santos facility is perched on another cliff overlooking the sea. After touring the wine-making facilities, we are offered a flight of three wines to taste: white, red and sweet. Lots of crudités—tomatoes, cheese, olives,
bread—are also on the table. The white is ok, the sweet too sweet for my palate, but the red is quite nice. The view from the winery is spectacular. From this vantage point, we have a particularly good view of the central island, which we know is slowly growing under pressure from the magma below. We can also see the Oosterdam and a couple of other cruise ships moored fairly near the centre island, since that it the only place where in the caldera where their anchors will reach.
The bus then takes us to the largest town on the island, Fira (also known as Thira depending on how much wine you've drunk). It repeats the pattern of twisting streets, white-washed buildings and inflated prices. We visit the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, the island's largest church, with its elegant parade of white arches.
We have a couple of hours before we need to be back at the ship, but remember that Fira, too, is at the top of a ridiculous cliff. There are three ways down (or up, for that matter): walk down the narrow cobblestone path that snakes back and forth across the cliff, ride a donkey down
the same path, or (hurray) ride a gondola down. The last option was not available the last time I was here in the 1970s, but it certainly seems the right choice now. However, we are hoping to get something to eat in Fira. We stop along the way to look at menus, but are put off by their high prices. That turns out to be a good thing, because we suddenly reach the line for the gondola, and it is really long. In fact, we have to wait almost an hour in the broiling sun to get on the gondola and down to the shore. If we had stopped for lunch, we would not have made it.
We have now come full circle to the place where we landed on Santorini this morning. We hop a tender back to the ship, very hot and tired.
We forego the show tonight for a relaxed evening. This was our last stop in Greece. Tomorrow will be a blessed sea day, giving us a chance to relax and recuperate.
Tot: 0.409s; Tpl: 0.054s; cc: 13; qc: 66; dbt: 0.0348s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 4;
; mem: 1.4mb