Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

Ahoy, Matey! A Boat Trip to Satorini’s Active Volcano

Saturday was our FAVORITE day on the island!  We ended the previous night in Oia and were starting our morning back there, bright and early. The night before, we arranged a trip with a local travel agency.  The plan was to first get on a boat from the port at Oia and sail our way to the volcanic caldera. So, we hopped on a local shuttle with several other couples and made our way down to the port. After dropping us off, the shuttle bus was supposed to return to Oia in order to pick up the remaining passengers.

Port in Oia from above--blocked by the cliffs

Made it!

Here comes our boat!

Ahh! Crystal clear water

Within 10 minutes of boarding, we pulled away from the port.  Umm, and about that other busload of paid customers?? Well, turns out that after he dropped us off, the shuttle bus driver conveniently “forgot” about the rest of the patrons back in the village.  We watched him prop up his feet and smoke countless cigarettes.  Maybe, we thought, the next passengers get on a different boat?  Nope!  After getting 100 yards or so off shore, the shuttle bus came screaming down the road to the port, beeping its horn incessantly.  Apparently we had forgotten some people….duh!  We giggled as we returned to port to pick up the stranded customers.  Oh, Greece.

Pulling away from Port

Looking up at Oia

The water was a little choppy!

Fira from the boat

Nice Striations of Color

Approaching the volcano. Check out that volcanic rock!

Pulling into Port

After we pulled into port, we met with our tour guide, Mama Zoey.  Mama Zoey had lived on the island of Santorini all of her life and had been to the top of the volcano over 3,000 times!  No wonder she left us in the dust as she climbed!

Our group

This rock formation, as well as the island of Santorini, are what remains after a catastrophic volcanic eruption during the Minoan Times, long, long ago in 17 Century BC.  The islands themselves formed almost a complete circle, but after the powerful (7 magnitude) explosion, many of the islands have been completely underwater.  The legend of Atlantis actually dates back to this massive eruption, which is still one of the highest recorded ratings of any volcanic eruption. The colors of the beaches (red, white, and black) depend on which geologic layer was revealed after the top of the volcano literally blew off.  The volcano itself is still considered active with the last eruption having occurred in the 1950’s.

And so, with Mama Zoey providing all of the necessary information, we continued our way up to the top of the volcano. At one point she told us that we would be at the top in “4 Greek minutes.”  We learned enough from the bus schedule to know that 4 minutes could essentially mean either:

 1. We’re already on the top! 

2.  We’ve still got 15 minutes to go.  🙂

Volcanic Rock

Russ's need for photography landed us at the back of the group 🙂

Volcanic Crater

Fira

Near the top

Russ on the volcano

Boats!

Beautiful panoramic views

from the volcano

At the top of the volcano we stopped to learn more about the history of the island, and Mama Zoey dug a hole and let us feel the sulfur-y steam that escaped.  No, there was not any lava.  But the panoramic view of the surrounding islands was beautiful! We spent 20 minutes simply enjoying our surroundings.  Afterwards, we made our way cautiously down and back to the boat.  Some of the women on the tour chose to wear sandals or cute shoes….to hike. up. a .VOLCANO.  I had no sympathy for them when they slid their way down the mountain with dusty feet.  Mean? maybe.  But, seriously people.

After we arrived back at the boat, we headed to our second destination–the lava-heated mineral baths.  The boat stopped about 100 meters away from an area where the water turned considerably browner.  I had every intention of getting off of the boat and swimming in the mineral water–until Mama Zoey explained to us that it’s possible we’ll come back dirty and it’s most probable we’ll smell like sulfur for the rest of the day.  As one fellow traveler said to me, “THAT wasn’t in the brochure.”  It certainly wasn’t, but it was hot, and we had just climbed a mountain, and besides, who wants to miss an opportunity to jump off of a boat in the middle of the Aegean??  Not me.  I decided to swim…in an area away from the stinky water.

Others swim towards the mineral baths

I kept myself in the "unstinky" water

The spec on the right is me, making my way towards the church

ahhh

So incredibly refreshing!! After we successfully loaded all of the swimmers back into the boat (trust me, it wasn’t that easy), we headed to our final destination, the island of Therasia, for lunch.  Therasia has a population of about 300 people, mostly fisherman.  There’s a school, but they don’t really have enough kids for it. 😉

Gyros for lunch and a great view

The Port

The several hundred stairs lead up to the actual town

Friend!

some of the other "restaurants" at the port

Fun day!

Beautiful!

When we got back to Oia, we took the bus to our hotel, where we spent some time swimming and relaxing.  I’m pretty sure we went back into Fira that night for dinner, but we actually have *gasp* no pictures!  It was nice for Russ to walk around and enjoy the environment without worrying about pictures.  I can assure you, though, the sunset was amazing. 🙂

Day 3–Swimming in the Aegean

For day 3 in Santorini we had two main items on our agenda–half a day at the beach, the rest of the day in Oia to await the sunset.  Sunsets in Oia are largely purported to be the most beautiful in all of the world.  We were already thinking it would be difficult to top what we saw from Fira!

There are many beaches on the island of Santorini, some more desirable than others, and some that are even impossible to reach.  And they come in various colors–red, white, and black!  The red beach is accessible by foot after a slightly treacherous trail; the white beach is only accessible by boat (and then un-read tourists realize they have to wade their way towards shore in waist-high water); the black beaches are the most easy to access and probably the most popular because of it.

We headed to Kamari beach.  I wanted to head to a black beach for aesthetics, so we were deciding between the famed beaches of Perissa or Kamari.  Unbeknownst to me, Russ had an ulterior motive.  He knew which beach provided the best, up-close-and-personal view of planes coming in to land at the Santorini airport.  And so, to Kamari we went!

Kamari Beach

the beach

We set up shop under one of the cute little umbrellas with beach chairs (3€/person for the whole day).  It was quite nice to lounge on the beach chairs as the sand is less like sand and more like rocks.  Shoes or sandals necessary.

Lauren at Kamari Beach

Incoming! Good view from underneath our umbrella

The sheer “coolness” of being at Kamari beach did not really hit me til we got in the water.  Umm, hello, we’re swimming in the Aegean Sea!  I’m pretty sure that was my exact statement!  It was so different than swimming on the east or west coast of the US.  After wading out to our thighs in the rocky water, it got deep FAST!  And of course the scenery is just ridiculous. I wish I could give you a picture from the water. 🙂

These people already can't touch

Rows of umbrellas on Kamari Beach

After a morning/early afternoon at the beach, we headed to Oia to check out the town and stay around for the famed sunset.  We wanted to get there early because we heard about the swarms of people who make their way to Oia around 6 o’clock.  We’d also seen the hoards of people piled onto the buses, barely standing room only.  Plus, we figured that there’d be enough to do there.

We were kind of wrong.  Don’t misunderstand me, Oia is a beautiful place.  It has a definite charm to it and is a lot more “village-like” than the city of Fira.  We were definitely intrigued and wowed by the architecture and  the view.  We enjoyed walking around through the narrow-alleys and panting our way up stone step after stone step.  But it was HOT.  and WHITE.  and REFLECTIVE. The stores and restaurants were definitely limited compared to Fira, but we found enough places to stop and have a cool drink when necessary.

Oia

streets of Oia

Blue-dome church again

Russ in Oia

We stopped here for a drink...not too shabby!

hanging off of a cliff

I can't help myself. I find friends everywhere.

and these guys love me!

but these guys are jealous. dogs and cats everywhere!!

church in Oia

lovely

People starting to assemble on the old castle for sunset viewing

The real “village” atmosphere smacked us in the face when we decided we should probably get some money out of an ATM.  We remembered seeing one by the bus station, so we walked back down the hill to procure some funds.  Unfortunately, the ATM had run out of money (it’s Friday).  It wouldn’t be refilled until Monday.  Totally fine, except there literally is not another ATM in Oia.  The next closest one–Fira.  🙂

Beauty.

After our second drink stop, we started to get into position for sunset viewing.  Seriously, an almost-deserted town can certainly manifest a lot of bodies all at once!  It’s best to secure a spot early on!

We've got a good hour to go.

but the crowds are building

sunset in Oia

Crepe in Greece? Why not.

a glimpse of the donkeys that carry people up from the port

getting closer

 

The end.  🙂  Another beautiful and exhausting day completed.  Day 4, coming up, was absolutely our best of the trip, so be sure to check back soon!

 

Santorini Day 2

Relaxation started to set in on our second day.  I want you to know that it takes A LOT for me not to plan what we are going to do on a vacation.  Typically, I spend a lot of time researching, buying tickets, making reservations, and learning the ins-and-outs of our environment.  For Santorini,  Russ and I both agreed to play it by ear and explore our surroundings at a leisurely pace.  So we slept in a little on Thursday and ordered our breakfast.  Breakfast at Meli Meli is served on your patio so you can enjoy the beautiful weather and view.

Breakfast time

Our Patio

We had briefly read about a hike from the city of Fira to the city of Oia and totally wanted to experience hiking up the mountains from one side of the island to the other.  It sounded like an amazing experience, standing on top of the volcanic-rock mountains and staring out into the vast surrounding ocean.  We took the bus to Fira to start our journey and from there, headed uphill.

Climbing toward Imerovigli and Oia

Walking up the hill towards Imerovigli and Oia

From whence we came...looking back towards Fira

Russ looks cool, but it was HOT!

We walked, and walked, and walked.  We were supposed to come to certain checkpoints that pointed our way to Oia.  The first was a church that was painted white, had bells, and was topped with a blue dome.  Newsflash: all the churches in Santorini look the same.

Could this be it?

We made our way to Imerovigli, the next village up on the hill and wandered around for a long time searching for our next checkpoint.  Ok, we were lost.  And hot.  We could see Oia from our vantage point, and it looked really far away.  We had already been walking for 2 hrs, and the original hike we referenced suggested the total hike time as 1-2 hrs.  Clearly, we did something wrong.

Never fear, though.  Without having our whole trip planned out, we could change our course and feel okay about it.  We decided to scrap the hike (since we never found the real trail) and find a nice shady spot for lunch.  And we did.  There is nothing like a nice, fresh plate of Tzatziki to cool you down!  We enjoyed fruit smoothies, grilled veggies, and tzatziki before heading back to our hotel to take an afternoon dip!

Yes, please!

The view from our hotel

In the evening we headed to Fira again for dinner.  We had seen (through the bus window) this great little restaurant we were longing to try.  It was off the main strip, away from all the tourist traps, and was surrounded by trees and plants.  We decided we were drawn to it because it was similar to a German biergarten! 🙂

The Pelican Restaurant

Russ enjoyed sampling the Greek beer, and for me, the wine was just fine

Yum.

After a delicious and relaxing dinner (with free Santorini dessert wine–so sweet it was almost syrupy!), we headed back into town to see our second sunset.

If you could only see the amount of flashes going off!

lovely.

sunset in Fira

amazing

sunset end

Tomorrow—the beach! 🙂

It’s all Greek to me!

When we originally started planning our last big shebang in Europe, we debated over going back to Italy or taking a trip to London.  We were fairly certain, however, that we’d take a trip to London at another point in our lives, and we knew that we’d definitely be heading back to Italy.  We needed something completely different.  Enter Greece and the island of Santorini.

Islands in the Aegean--this one's not Santorini

We took a direct flight from Nuremberg to the island, arrived at a small airport that literally only receives about 6 incoming flights a day, and hopped into a transport van.  Our driver flew around the curves of the island on the 1 1/2 car width roads, constantly beeping his horn, dodging donkeys and 4-wheelers.  We were slightly alarmed when he dropped off one of the other couples with us in the van.  He called out their hotel, “Tennis Club.”  We looked around.  Dust, brush, and a very, very old tennis court.  As we drove away, we watched the couple stand in the middle of the road, uncertain of their surroundings, and positively confused as to where they were supposed to go.  Luckily for us, when we pulled up to our hotel, I recognized it right away.

Hotel Meli Meli

Meli Meli from the back

We breathed a sigh of relief to have arrived safely and were promptly greeted by the hotel manager who showed us around and got us settled.  We spent an hour or so resting and enjoying the view into the sea.   Looking out from our hotel was amazing; only 1/3 of your field of vision was taken up by the ground and buildings.  The remaining 2/3 were filled with bright blues, either of the ocean or the sky.

The view from our terrace

Looking out from the hotel

Most visitors on the island end up renting some type of vehicle in which to get around.  Popular choices are smart cars, 4-wheelers, and scooters.  However, we knew that there was a bus stop 200 meters from our hotel.  Why rent a vehicle when the buses are that close?  We found out why.  On Santorini, the buses could be anywhere from 10 minutes early to 20 minutes late.  They only stop to pick you up when you wave to them (we found this out the hard way), and they only let you off at your stop if you tell them about it when you get on (we also found this out the hard way).  It really left us saying, “This is Greek to me!” We eventually got the hang of the system, though I think Russ always felt a little unsure. 🙂

Anyway, Santorini is one of the largest of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean sea. It is shaped like a moon with an island in the middle, the remainder of the volcanic caldera.  In the past, all of this was just one island, but after a particularly gruesome volcanic explosion, Santorini as it is today is what remains.

On the island there are really 3 main villages where tourists typically spend their time (excluding the beaches, for now): Fira, Oia, and Imerovigli.  Fira, the capital of the island, is on the western side of the island and where we headed our first night (after we figured out how to get on the bus).  Fira is the center of life on the island with shops, banks, restaurants, and an amazing view. Notable, of course, is the architecture of Santorini.  Beautiful white building hang on the sides of cliffs and blue domed churches peer out amongst them.

Church in Fira

Restaurants on the cliffs of Fira, looking out towards the caldera

Houses and hotels of Fira

After climbing higher up

view from Fira

Our view from our dinner spot

Of course one of the most popular past times on the island is watching the sunset.  I’m pretty sure we did this almost every night we were on the island; we changed vantage points, but the show was always the same.  And it was always amazing.  It’s times like these when we felt really fortunate to have been given a year abroad, when we realized that we probably never would have been able to do or see what we have been lucky enough to experience.  Watching sunsets in Greece? Not an every day event.

sunset falls

sunset in Fira

sunset from Fira

sunset over the caldera

beautiful

We spent 5 wonderful days on Santorini.  Stay tuned for the rest of our adventures and for more of Russ’s beautiful photographs!