#4 Greek Islands, Sept. 25, 2012

Dear Everybody,

I went once more into the maw of the huge ferry, this time from Ios to Santorini, one of the best known of the Greek Islands. This island used to be round but due to an enormous volcanic eruption in 1613 BCE, a big chunk of the island got dumped into the sea, leaving an irregular-shaped island and a cliff showing where much of the land had disappeared. It’s really impressive when you arrive on a boat with the afternoon sun on the chocolate western cliff of the island, with the white houses like frosting on the top!

About a thousand people got off the ferry, making quite a crush. Since my hotel’s website said that they met all ferries, I looked for a signholder, but saw none, so I got on the bus that would take the tourists up the cliff to Fira, the town above. I know, years ago one could ride up on a donkey, and one still can from the old port, but not where the ferry drops the people off. And a thousand people?

I had some sketchy directions from the bus depot to the hotel, and while I had to ask twice for my landmarks, I finally found the hotel/hostel. I checked into a three-bed dorm with its own bathroom, and only had one roommate, an animated young woman from Canada. This was most welcome, as I had been kind of isolated on this trip.

I asked the desk clerk for a restaurant recommendation and had a wonderful meal of roast lamb in lemon sauce at Nikolas Restaurant. It was way too much, but I ate it all!

The next day I got a public bus to Kamari, which is the nearest village to ancient Thira, a town that was alive in 1100 BCE. This was the reinhabitation occurring after the BIG eruption in 1613 BCE. I got a minibus out to the site, which drove up, up a mountain; I was intending to climb up to the ancient city. The wind was blowing so hard at this height that it was a real menace. I only got as far as the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and then an early Christian Basilica from the 9th C. AD before I turned back. I truly was afraid of being blown off my feet and off the cliff on the rough path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the minibus returned and took me back to Kamari, I got a good look at the famous black sand beaches. Then I got a public bus that dropped me at the Art Space art gallery, housed in Argyro’s Canava, a 200-year-old winery. This gallery features some of Greece’s best modern artists. Like every other destination, this one had required some uphill walking to reach. How is it that all roads run uphill on Santorini?

Another public bus brought me back to Fira, where I had a stellar lunch/dinner at Nikolas Restaurant, this time cuttlefish in wine sauce.

 

 

I took a tour on Sunday, which worked out very well. As we drove out of town, the Caldera was perfectly lit by the morning sun. We stopped at a monastery and looked in at their church, built in 1956 after a severe earthquake did a lot of damage to the island, a fairly common occurrence, I guess. The Santo Winery was next, where we dutifully looked at and listened to the explanation of the production—how many wineries have I visited and the production facilities all look the same. The Tasting, however, was a cut above all others. They had a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Caldera on which we sat. And they gave sizable tastes of three wines, the last being some delicious Vin Santo. I’ve had that in Italy, but I will say this was superb!

 

 

 

We walked through an ancient village called Megalochori. It had such a pretty town square. It also had homes carved out of the lava that people lived in, but all we could see were the doorways, so that wasn’t too satisfactory. From there we went to Perivolos, one of the black sand beaches near Kamari. My roommate had commented on how hot they are to lie on—I wouldn’t have thought of that! There was a very good taverna facing the beach where most of us ate a late lunch. Mine was a Greek combo plate, which I really enjoyed.

The thing that I was really looking forward to was the archeological site of Akrotiri, which existed from about 2500 BCE until it got totally buried by the BIG one in 1613 BCE. There were two and three storey buildings and quite a bit of pottery in situ. There was even a toilet! The guide explained that they had a sophisticated sewer system. Let’s see, do I hear/feel any rumblings? The LP Guidebook says that they can predict volcano and earthquake events—-right, as if they would get thousands of people evacuated in time!!! Well hopefully, not today!

The next day I visited a couple of museums—first Santozeum where they had displays of the Akrotiri wall paintings. I had seen a real one of these in the Athens Archeological Museum three years ago, which I remember well. These were frescos, which graced many of the private homes as well as the public buildings. By the way, Akrotiri is only five per cent excavated and, I was told, if Greece weren’t so broke, the excavations would continue.

I stopped in to see the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, noting a beautiful Byzantine (?) Madonna and Child. That brought me to the Megaron Gyzi Museum that had a wonderful gallery display of paintings of Santorini by Vaggelis Russos, and judging by the red dots, most of them were sold. It also had some before and after the 1956 earthquake photos—what a mess, but all fixed now.

Then I hopped on the cable car to go down to the Old Port—the one that you can ride up on a donkey from—no, I didn’t. I think I’m all done with donkeys, elephants, camels, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I followed my nose and found the donkeys and the donkey men right ready to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Port was very pleasant, too, and fun to just walk around in or sit and have a coffee. The cable car gave exquisite views of the Caldera—one can’t stop taking its picture!

By then I was hungry so back I went to Nikolas for a Greek salad. I had been debating about whether I should have a quarter-liter or half-liter of wine. I know, a half is a lot (four glasses) but it seemed like a good idea. Nikolas waited on me and when I ordered the half-liter he asked if I were alone. I said I was. “Then, that’s too much wine. You should get a quarter-liter.” I had noticed his commanding tone in the restaurant on previous visits. I complied and of course he was right—a quarter-liter was plenty—trust Nikolas! Last time when I ordered the cuttlefish in wine sauce, he asked me if I knew what cuttlefish was. He said that some people order it, thinking it’s fish and won’t eat it when it arrives!

My last day in Santorini was spent visiting two museums. The Archeological Museum mostly had artifacts from Ancient Thira. There was a wonderful display of pottery, mostly from the 7th C. BCE when Ancient Thira was at it’s height. Wrestlers, boats and charioteers were pictured on the rims of bowls, and they were very fond of birds with which to decorate their urns. Swans were often portrayed; it was amazing to see the beautiful art from so long ago.

The second museum, the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, featured artifacts from ancient Akrotiri, mostly from the 17th C. BCE, just before the BIG volcanic eruption that buried the city with ash and pumice, thus preserving much of the pottery and other things. Pride of place belonged to a gold ibex, but pottery, tools, furniture and wall paintings were there in good measure. A wooden table was ‘preserved’ by filling the cavity with resin that was left when wood completely deteriorated, thereby making a cast of a long-ago table. There were even baby feeding jars!

Later in the morning I took a public bus toward Kamari, asking to be let off at the Church of the Episkopi, an 11th C. church. Well, on the bus, I ran into a new tourist scam! When I bought my ticket from the conductor on the bus as it was moving, I dropped the .50 euro coin (my change) and heard it roll up to the front of the bus. I made a mental note to watch for it when I got off the bus. Another tourist couple was buying their ticket and they, too, dropped a couple of coins on the floor. That woman complained loudly to the conductor, “Don’t throw the coins on the floor, put them in my hand!” Was the conductor causing this? When he signaled that I would be getting off in a second, I made to go to the front of the bus as is the routine (in, in back; off, in front) but he blocked my way and insisted that I get off in back. Ah ha! He was deliberately causing us to drop the coins and then he would pick them up later!

I had quite a long uphill walk to the church, but the murals were worth it. I don’t think that they dated to the 11th C., but they clearly were old and fun to see. There is a plethora of churches on Santorini (and most of the islands) because any family of substance built its own church, which they still maintain themselves. One village that I visited had 300 inhabitants and 22 churches!

Well, as you can tell, I LOVED Santorini. Everybody should visit it sometime during their life—I know many of you have!

Some good moussaka at Nikolas Restaurant finished my day, and my stay. Tomorrow morning I shall be rolling out early and flying to Crete!

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