June 2012


Santorini is the name of what was once an island that is now a series of five looking at each other over the caldera thanks to volcanic activity.  While driving up the impressively steep and razor-switchbacks, the couple giving me a ride pointed out all the different types of volcanic rock.  No question that this island is mostly a desert with its steep cliffs reminiscent of the American Grand Canyon.  The two major towns on the island of Thira are both built into these cliffs.  Santorini is renowned for its breath-taking sunsets and the view of Oia (pronounced ee-ya) seen here.  What is amusing about this view is that it’s not easily found.  I was among several photographers who had combed the main thoroughfare and several side streets before coming upon this famous vista.  The other interesting comment is that this view is of a Greek Catholic church in a country that is famously Orthodox.  In Mykonos there were over 400 Orthodox chapels and only one Catholic one.

As the sun set each evening, hundreds of tourists would crowd the streets looking for the perfect angle to see the sun.  Almost every restaurant boasted of great sunset views.  I saw very few people turning around to catch the awesome shades of light playing on the buildings themselves.

Oia is very much a resort town, so with those prices (and hoping to make friends to explore with) I opted to stay at the youth hostel.  Sure enough the next day six of us hiked the 12 kilometers from Oia to the town of Fira.  The walk along the cliffs was breath-taking, and the weather remained perfect.  Upon reaching Fira, we were starving and settled down to a spectacularly delicious lunch of local cuisine.  After a bit of exploring, we headed back via bus.  That evening we enjoyed another scrumptious meal of Greek meze and seafood.

 

On my last day in Santorini, I went diving.  The company picked me up at the hostel and took me back, which was wonderful.  Our first dive was at the New Volcano site, which included a wreck.  Going in and around the wreck was so amazing; I couldn’t believe I wasn’t just watching a show from National Geographic.  I felt like a real explorer.  The second was a shore dive along a reef with starfish, anemones, and swaying seaweed.

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A few months ago, I decided to not plan my trip to Greece. Instead of pre-booking hotels and ferries, I researched options but left myself free to make all the decisions in the moment. After all, I was going by myself; it doesn’t get more flexible than that.   My European layover was in Amsterdam—too short to go into the city between flights, but I was able to tour the small airport museum of Dutch art and try out poffertjes, little mini-pancakes cooked in a cast-iron pan.  When I arrived in Athens, I realized that I had no desire to deal with massive public transport and the draining energy of a big, unknown city.  Passing through customs, I headed upstairs, bought an airline ticket for the island of Mykonos that left in 50 minutes, and rechecked my bag.

Once at my final destination, I found myself waiting at the bus stop with a French couple.  We quickly realized that the buses weren’t running a split a cab into town.  I knew I wanted to stay at the Hotel Carbonaki, a five minute walk from the main port.  I hadn’t realized that most of the town had such narrow, cobbled streets that moped crowd like SUVs, so much so that the only moped allowed in the pedestrian portion of town are those that make deliveries.  Since it was off season and I was staying three nights, I negotiated a very good rate for my single room with its private bath.

The main town is simply picture perfect to the point of feeling surreal.  Everything, including parts of the stoned walkways, is painted with limestone to purify the little rain that falls and to reflect the intense summer sun.   During the day, each street looks different as shop wares spill out in the streets; however once the shops close up, almost every street looks the same and few have signs, even in Greek.  Late at night you can wander from one club and bar to the next simply by following the music.  On a hill slightly at the edge of town are the famous windmills that immediately put me in mind of Moon Spinners, which is set in Crete.  Standing at the windmills provides a perfect view of the Little Venice section of town.  One evening I had the most amazing meal sitting on a balcony eating white bass; they had you go down to the kitchen to pick out your fish.

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While staying on Mykonos, I took the ferry with the French couple I’d met earlier to the island of Delos, center of the Hellenistic world commercially and as a port.  It is also where the gods Apollo and Artemis were born, according to legend.  Although the famous Lions of the Naxians were breathtaking, I particularly enjoyed resting after the quick hike up Mount Kynthos, which had such a breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea and the surrounding islands.

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As a different kind of adventure, I rented a 4-wheeler (ATV) to get to Paradise Beach.  I knew the diving center was there, and the buses were running too infrequently to be useful.  I never knew 15 mph could feel so fast.  Despite the owner’s misgivings, I drove it just fine and enjoyed spotting sheep and goats grazing in the countryside.  Due to weather and timing my two attempts at diving were thwarted, but I was determined to dive at my next stop: Santorini.