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Thursday, October 27, 2016

10/15: Picture Perfect Santorini, Greece

Steven and I were both still pretty bummed about his having been robbed yesterday on the ride on the Metro from downtown Athens out to the airport. It took the wind out of our sails a bit – no doubt about it. But here we were in magical Santorini and it was a new day.

It’s called the most extraordinary island in the Aegean and was called Kallisti – the ‘Loveliest’ – as long ago as ancient times. The island has now reverted officially to its subsequent name of Thira after the 9th century BC Dorian colonizer, Thiras. The place is better known these days, however, as Santorini, a name derived from its Byzantine empress, St. Irene, who restored icons to Orthodoxy.

We decided to take it easy today and just have a relaxing day exploring Thira. It was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel in the village of Karterados into Fira, the capital of Thira. Rather than walk along the main road connecting the two places, Steven suggested we walk toward the water so we would have the beautiful blue Aegean waters view on our left.

Seeing the mostly stark white buildings that Santorini is so famous for set against a bright blue, cloudless sky was a sight I had looked forward to for a long time. I could see why my friend, Diane, persuaded us to include Santorini on our itinerary.

We popped in to see the Catholic Church of Candelmas of the Lord Holy Place once we reached Fira.

We had seen the same warning about appropriate dress in many other churches and temples but never in so many languages or framed so nicely.
We began wandering through Fira next. Interesting sculptures looking toward the sea:
The door to nowhere – it was so bizarre as the door led nowhere at all - just a steep dropoff to the rocks below!
The path diverged here – we took the lower one that led downhill past lots of attractive galleries, shops and tiny restaurants that lead eveentually all the way down to the Old Port.

Shortly, the shops and restaurants gave way to the steep steps where we encountered a lot of donkeys. Great photo op but we did have to be careful where we tread or is that trod or trodded?!

We began following the donkeys as they made their way  to the port but then decided we had enough of walking in donkey poo and walked back up the steps!
See my snazzy new beach bag? I bought it yesterday in the market in Athens for all of $1.50  – far grander lugging my swimsuit, etc in that rather than a plastic bag, I thought!

I figured the donkey must be the unoffical mascot for Santorini as there were donkey signs, donkey figurines, donkey stuffed animals - you name it, everything donkey related!
Back in town, we came across the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It was a three-aisled basilica with four sanctuaries – there had been five. One of them was dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel which was the name of the church and elementary school I attended while growing up in Ottawa, Canada.

I really liked the sentiments expressed in the multi-language sign by the votive candles:

Adjoining the cathedral was the Sisters of Charity Convent and also the Dominican Monastery – certainly all the Catholic bases were covered!

We walked through Fira with the eventual goal of getting to the bus station.

Since there were so many places we wanted to see on the island and the bus service was a thousand times better than in Corfu, once we arrived at the station, we got on the first bus that was leaving! That happened to be Akrotiri, a small town located in the southwest part of Thira. The cost was just two euros, about two bucks each.
We passed a lot of small churches on the 30 minute ride to Akrotiri. I was surprised how very rocky and barren the island was as I had not expected that at all. The following are photos from the bus through its darkened windows.

Any guesses as to what these were? We saw plants like these all over Thira/Santorini and never did discover what they were until our last evening on the island. All will be revealed in that post so just be patient and I will clue you in as soon as possible!

Akrotiri was once a Minoan outpost and the town therefore is a big draw for those wanting to visit one of the most inspiring archeological sites in the Cyclades. We, however, decided not to be ‘culture vultures’ the rest of the day and spend it instead being beach bums on the town's Red Beach.

Only two other people who got off the bus at the beach as we did decided to walk to Red Beach. The others took the easy way out and boarded the boat that was waiting to take them to beaches along the lovely bay. Another quick boat trip sure looked quite appealing, I must tell you, but walking along the shore was certainly far more adventurous especially since we didn’t know how far it was!

See what I mean about our taking the more adventurous route!
Once we climbed to the top of the rock and saw yet another dazzling view ahead of us, I was glad that we had made the decision to hike to the beach after all.
Hearing this man playing beautiful music with this dramatic backdrop was nothing short of magical too.
We still had a hike down to the beach from this spot.

It was so weird seeing this doorway in the volcanic mountain. I think beach equipment was stored inside the carved-out space.
Some people were sunning themselves on towels on the rocky beach but we spied some beach chairs further along the beach and headed for those. There were a couple of empty ones and Steven snagged those and a beach umbrella while I walked over to the two women in charge to inquire about the rental cost. When I was told the cost would be ten euros for both of us, I said that was more than we wanted to spend and began walking away. 
I had only gotten a few feet before the women said five euros would be acceptable. If we had been here at the height of the tourist season, I am sure the cost would have been a lot higher and there probably wouldn’t have been chairs available anyway! Through a series of gestures, it was made clear to me that I should not divulge to other tourists the low price we had paid.

Freda: This one’s for you since you got such a kick out of the photo I had taken of Steven’s half-bald head from atop the Clock Tower in Tirana! He decided to shave his head totally that morning and has kept it that way since.
We saw the water taxi make several drop offs and pickups in the next couple of hours as well as lots of small cruise boats stopping for a hour or so to allow their passengers to enjoy the lovely views of Red Beach. 

At one point, I counted seven boats moored in the bay.
We saw some people swimming but they were obviously hardier that we were and had also come prepared to swim with swimsuits under their clothes. We brought our swim stuff with us but there was no place we could change, nor any facilities to be had for that matter either! We were both quite content to just be lazy louts and enjoy a good beach read. There was a fairly brisk wind but we didn’t care.

Although named Red Beach, the beach part was mostly made up of tiny black rocks. It did have the red backdrop which lent the beach its name.
Ready for the climb back up the so-called hazardous trail:

Walking back along the road to the Akrotiri bus stop, we noticed a huge number of ATV’s being driven by what only could have been tourists. Steven and I toyed with the idea of renting one, too, another day but, since the bus service was so phenomenal, we discarded that one after all. Steven said though, that when we get home, one of the things he wants to do is learn how to ride a scooter as that may come in handy on future trips we hope to take. 
After the tumult of Athens, our first day on Santorini seemed absolutely blissful.

Posted from Manama, Bahrain on October 27th, 2016.


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