Sunday, June 30, 2013

Our Honeymoon! Part 5: Santorini


We left Crete on a stormy, windy day. Our ferry was almost canceled due to the high seas and winds, but eventually we set sail across the Mediterranean. After telling Brett that I never got sea sick, I felt queasy the entire time! You couldn't go outside at all because it was a high-speed ferry, we were packed in with a huge group of Russian-speaking tourists, there was no air conditioning, the ferry kept rocking back and forth, and they played a very strange video about the sinking of Santorini the entire time. We arrived in Santorini an hour late due to the weather and so the port made us go around in circles for another hour while another ship unloaded its passengers. Needless to say, I was very glad once we stepped foot on land! 

The island of Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic explosion - one of the largest in history. The eruption, which occurred sometime around 1600 BC, caused the center of the volcano to sink (the volcano had ejected so much magma that it was no longer able to support the volcanic rocks and thus collapsed). What is left is the outer ring of the volcano, its sheer cliff faces exposing layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash. It is on these cliffs that many of the island's towns have been built, and the result is just as spectacular as any postcard might lead you to believe. In the center of the caldera, which has been filled with gorgeous blue ocean since shortly after the super eruption, is a tiny island. This is actually the volcano, which has been slowly building itself up over the centuries. It has a foreboding presence, for it will erupt again one day. 

Our ferry docked at the base of Santorini's magnificent cliffs, and we took a taxi up a harrowing switchback road (I held my breath the entire time) and across the island to Perissa, where we were staying. Given the island's reputation as a glamorous tourist destination, I was surprised by how rural much of the island was. It was mostly vineyards and farmland, and many houses had ducks, goats, or donkeys in their backyards. Perissa itself had a fun, sleepy little beach town vibe, much different than that of Fira or Oia, and was the perfect base for exploring the island. We stayed at the adorable Hotel Zorzis,which we very, very highly recommend! The little hotel was lovely, the garden was gorgeous, the owners were incredibly nice, the mountain views were spectacular, and it was the cleanest place I've ever stayed. It was without a doubt our favorite hotel from the trip! They even had a local bottle of Santorini wine and fresh flowers waiting for us on our bed. :-) 

Welcome present from the hotel!
The hotel was so cute!
Gorgeous mountain views from the pool
Travel Magazine said the hotel was good for "confetti-sprinkled newlyweds." We couldn't agree more!
After checking in to our room, we put on our bathing suits and walked over to the beach. The beach is lined with tavernas, and we stopped in one for lunch (gyros - yum!). Then we grabbed some sun loungers, ordered drinks, and stretched out to read, enjoy the sun, and take in the views of the pretty black sand beach. The waves were unusually high thanks to the storm that had delayed our arrival, so unfortunately, we didn't get to go for a swim. But we enjoyed our beach day just the same! 



 For dinner, we hopped on a local bus (Santorini has an amazing public bus system!) and headed over to dinner at Santo Winery. The winery had been highly recommended by Spiros, the owner of the Hotel Zorzis, and seemed to have a cult-like following among locals. It is known for having lovely views of the caldera, but by the time we got there, the entire island was shrouded in fog, clouds, and an amazingly strong wind. Occasionally, you could just barely make out the glow of the sun through the clouds as they spilled over the rim of the caldera. It looked like something out of a movie about the apocalypse. Alas, the world didn't end, Santorini didn't sink (again!), and we enjoyed our wine tasting. We each got six glasses of local Santorini wines, a plate of local cheeses, and some crackers with a tomato dipping sauce. Santorini's wines are unique because the island's soil is composed of volcanic ash, and the vines have to be kept unstaked and low to the ground to protect them from the island's high winds. After the Crusades, the wines were widely exported by the Republic of Venice and became quite popular throughout Italy. Later, the Russian Orthodox Church would adopt them as their official Eucharistic wine. The island is especially known for their Vinsanto wine, which is made from a local type of grape that is harvested late in the season and then dried in the sun. We really enjoyed the Vinsanto and the white wines, although neither of us cared very much for the red ones. Overall, however, the winery was definitely worth the trip! 

We loved Santorini's wines!
Eerie view of the sun through the clouds
Cloudy view of the caldera from the winery

The next day, we hopped on another public bus and rode over to Fira, the capital of the island. Fira is lovely and postcard perfect, with its narrow streets, steep stairs, and buildings that tumble down the cliffs. The entire town seems to be made of white houses and buildings, and everywhere you turn there is another fantastic view of the island and caldera. We had some Nescafe frappes at a lovely little cafe and enjoyed the breathtaking views. It was a great little spot to people watch as well. Since no cars or buses are able to fit through the tiny streets, people would often walk by dragging enormous suitcases over the cobblestones as they searched the maze of cliff-side dwellings for their hotel. One of my favorite parts of Fira was the doors to restaurants, cafes, and hotels. These lined the streets just like any other little town, but when you opened them, you would find yourself standing on a little edge over the caldera, with a steep staircase hugging the cliffs to the right or left. They were so unique! I never tired of opening them and asking Brett to snap another picture. :-) 

Fira
View of the caldera from Fira
We LOVE Santorini!
Santorini-style entry ways

After exploring Fira, we got on another public bus and drove across the island to Oia, which sits on the northernmost point of the island. Oia used to be the home of wealthy ship captains, but today it is an exceedingly beautiful little town full of stunning architecture and breathtaking views. During the day, Oia was much less busy than Fira, and we enjoyed having the narrow streets to ourselves. When we arrived in Oia, we set out to find Ammoudi Bay, a place where my friend K had recommended we go for lunch. I thought Brett might kill me when a store owner told us "to go past the castle and down 300 steps!" We walked to the northernmost edge of the island, and then began our trek down the cliff via the old stairs. When we got to the base, we found ourselves in a little bay filled with fishing boats and lined with a couple of tavernas. We ate at Katina's, with the orange chairs, just feet from the water. The Greek salad was absolutely delicious and, coupled with the view, easily makes that afternoon one of my favorites. After lunch, we both rode donkeys back up the 300 stairs to Oia. Our donkeys were surprisingly fast, and every time mine got too close to the edge and I looked down into the caldera I prayed that mine wasn't suicidal. After lunch, we made reservations for dinner, and then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon walking around the town, frequently stopping for drinks and Nescafe frappes. As it neared sunset, hordes of people crowded the northernmost edge of town and the castle to get a peek of the famous event. We were glad we had made dinner reservations at Castro, which is supposed to have one of the best sunset views on the island. It did not disappoint! The restaurant even provided us with a type of "sunset security." If people stood anywhere between the restaurant and the view of the sunset, they would promptly shoo them away. We ordered wine and mezes and watched the sun dip below the sea. It was truly an unforgettable evening! 

Lunch in Ammoudi Bay!
Ammoudi Bay


Church bells in Oia


Oia!
Oia

Donkeys
An old windmill in Oia




Hello, Handsome!





















































Can you believe those stairs?!
Gorgeous sunset!
View from our table
All the people behind us watching the sunset

The next day, we woke up early to visit Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement that was destroyed by the super eruption and buried in volcanic ash (a la Pompeii). Many scholars think that Akrotiri, and the disaster that befell it, are the inspiration behind Plato's story of Atlantis. The site is still undergoing excavation, but what has been excavated is remarkably well-preserved. Interestingly, no gold objects or uninterred human skeletal remains have been found at the site, indicating that an orderly evacuation was performed before the eruption. You might remember that Knossos, on Crete, was a major Minoan settlement, and it was fascinating to compare the structures and artifacts. 


Atlantis!

Ancient coffee table

After Akrotiri, we walked over to the Red Beach, stopping to say hi to some goats and pick up some street food along the way. The Red Beach is only accessible via a short hike, which was an exciting adventure and provided some amazing views of the red cliffs and blue waters. Once we got there, we laid our towels out in the shade of the cliffs and ate our lunch before Brett went in for a swim (and I gave myself an impromptu type pedicure with some pumice I found). While the beach was unique and certainly beautiful, we didn't find the experience relaxing  - especially with little pebbles from the cliffs falling around us the entire time! We headed back to Perissa, and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the beach there before grabbing dinner at one of the tavernas. 

Goat friend (don't tell Lala)
The famous Red Beach


We were both sad that it was our last night in Santorini and that we were already leaving for Athens - the last stop on our honeymoon!

4 comments:

  1. My favorite post so far! What an adventure!

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  2. Amazing, beautiful and what photo ops you two create. Love it!

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  3. A perfect pictorial of a perfect honeymoon, you both are looking so stunning. God Bless you

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