Santorini, Greece (26 Sept 2015)
Lost in Paradise – Santorini
Ah… the jewel of the Cyclades islands, Santorini (officially called Thira, classically called Thera) is one of the “postcard perfect” places at the top of my “Dream Destination List”.
It really looks as perfect as how it is usually depicted in postcards! Masa (the bassist of Mayday) had his wedding ceremony on this romantic island located in the Aegean Sea. A popular honeymoon spot, the Aegean Sea is aptly called “ai qing hai” ( 爱情海) in Chinese which means “Love Ocean”.
Thanks to “Ocean Dream,” I had the chance to spend about 11 hours in Santorini! The island was actually not part of the 88th Peace Boat voyage. The scheduled port, Egypt, was considered “unsafe” so it was replaced by Santorini! No pyramids? One of the most beautiful Greek islands instead? We had no complaints!
We reached the island early in the morning when the sky was still dark. We woke up to catch the sunrise which was unfortunately obstructed by the mountains and clouds. But we were rewarded with the spectacle of watching the lights on the island slowly fading in the darkness as the sunlight gently caressed the steep cliffs.
Ships could not dock at the harbor so we had to board small tender boats to get to the island. During the short ride to the island, everyone (or maybe just I) grew more and more excited when we saw the iconic white washed buildings of Santorini.
From the Old Port (Skala Pier), there are 3 ways to get to the top of the cliff and Fira, the capital of Santorini which is 260 metres above sea level:
Cable car (a short ride for €5)
Donkey ride (€5)
Climb 580 steps (free!)
In the early morning without the crowds, we took the cable car up. We saw long lines at the cable car station in the late afternoon so we thought we could ride the donkeys down. However, we had an unpleasant encounter with the rude donkey operator and decided not to pay him to abuse the donkeys. In the end, we just walked down the steps.
There are many attractions on the island. Beach lovers can relax on the famous beaches covered with red and black volcanic pebbles covered beaches while history enthusiasts can visit the ancient ruins of Aktrotiri. Some adventurous GET teachers did a scenic 3-hour hike from Fira to Oia (which are 2 picturesque cliff-perched towns).
Due to time constraint, we decided to prioritize our “needs” – which was to eat good food and explore the towns filled with narrow walkways and white houses. We decided to visit Oia first as I read that it is a beautiful town like Fira but less crowded. And it is true, Fira was so packed with tourists when we visited after lunch hours.
At Fira’s main bus station (just a short 5/10 mins walk from the cable car station), we bought bus tickets (€1.80 one way) and jumped into the KTEL bus for Oia. At the bus station, there are frequent buses that go to all the villages on the island. We checked the bus schedule at the terminal to plan how long we could stay in Oia. Time passed quickly during the 30-min ride as we were entertained by the unfolding views of rolling cliffs and coastlines.
It was like walking in a dream as we wandered through the cobbled streets of Oia and admired the cave houses and dome structures. At Patisserie Melevio, we enjoyed a breakfast with a breath-taking panorama – the Aegean sea, volcanic caldera cliffs and whitewashed houses.
After taking many photographs and meandering through Oia’s maze of shops and houses, we returned to Fira which was bursting with tourists by mid-day. We indulged in a Greek feast at Ladokolla (a great restaurant with decently priced Greek cuisine that is opposite the post office in downtown Fira) before heading back to Peace Boat.
It was so difficult to say good bye to the island and I wished we had time to watch the legendary sunset on the island. Santorini is believed by some to be the lost city of Atlantis. Getting lost in the quaint and somewhat “mythical” cobbled streets of the traditional towns is great way to spend a relaxing day in this paradise on earth. 11 hours in this paradise is like a teaser. I am definitely coming back for a longer stay in the future!
Take the cable car up to the villages from the disembarkation point (early in the morning) as the queue is short. In the mid-day, the queue for the cable car down is super long as many tourists are rushing back to their cruises. For the trip down, if you have good knees, you can just walk (about 30 mins) down the steps or pay for the donkey ride (poor animals)!
I feel that Oia is a better place to visit first to beat the crowds. Fia was just too crowded for me in the mid-day to be able to enjoy it.
Pick a nice restaurant that offers views of the Aegean sea and enjoy the scenery and take a break from shopping.
Wander away from the main shopping area and get lost in the meandering paths. The villages are even more magical when you are far away from the crowds and shops.
Wear something nice for your day in Santorini (that match well with the white-washed walls) as you want to look good in your priceless photos (trust me)!
If you visit in summer, spend some time in the beaches (with unique red/black sand) and soak in the mediterranean sun.