“A Day-trip? Are you kidding? Nobody ever takes a day-trip to Santorini.” This was the response I got when I first mentioned that we were planning a day trip to Santorini while we were in Greece. “You have to spend a week, a few days at least!” From what I knew at that time, which was confirmed during the trip, I replied “we can’t afford any more than a day-trip!”
First, where is Santorini? Take a look at Photo 1, the simple map of Greece. You’ll see a tiny crescent shaped island on the southern end of the Cyclades, just north of Crete.
Just to clear up any possible confusion, The Greek name for this island is Thira (Θήρα), which is what you might see on a map, while the popular name everyone uses is Santorini, which comes from the Italian Saint Irene.
While spending some time on the Cycladic islands of Paros and Naxos, we noticed that at least two firms offered day excursions to this volcanic island of Thira, or Santorini. The trips had been cancelled for about three weeks due to higher than usual winds. Finally, during the last week we were on Naxos, the winds finally calmed down and upon checking with the local representative, we learned the excursion was on, and the boat was heading out the next morning at 7:15. “Book us two tickets,” was our immediate response.
Excited, we drove over to Naxos town early the next morning, surprised at how quiet the entire port area was. Most of the shops were still closed, but a few of the waterfront tavernas were already preparing for the day. We parked our little rental car and walked down the dock, anxious to begin our adventure. Right on time, the crew cast off the lines and we headed out of the harbor at Naxos and motored across to the small port of Piso Livadi on Paros to pick up some more passengers.
The little ship was the “Naxos Star”, run by Panteleos Cruises. They run cruises on different days of the week to Delos-Mykonos, Santorini, Iraklia-Koufonissi. The Iraklia trips had already closed for the season. The boat was a well appointed vessel, 41 m long, 6.5 m wide. It had a speed of 19 knots, and could carry up to 300 passengers. The crew were very friendly, spoke English fairly well, and appeared to be well trained and efficient.
After loading three busloads of tourists on Paros, we were on our way. Many of the passengers chose to stay inside in the comfortable lounges, while drinking coffee or other drinks and snacks. Many of us decided to stay outside, either on the small upper deck, the stern area, or even up at the bow. The speed of the boat created a good breeze outside, but it was sunny, warm and absolutely delightful. After leaving Paros, our route took us southwards between the islands of Ios and Sykonos, then directly to the caldera of Santorini.
As we approached our destination, the volcanic island seemed to rise up in front and beside us, with multi-coloured layers of volcanic soil and rocks hanging high above us. To really appreciate what we were seeing around us, one must learn a little of the history of this island, which in fact is the remains of a huge volcano. Not only a volcano, but one which erupted in 1450 BC with such force that the resulting tidal wave completely wiped out the entire Minoan civilization on Crete, as well as wrecking havoc all around the Mediterranean. All life was snuffed out on Santorini, and whatever villages that were not totally destroyed were buried in ash.
The final body of water we crossed as we approached the island was actually the result of the explosion, the “caldera” or huge volcanic crater, complete with a couple of small islands in the centre that have erupted from time to time, just to remind the locals that they are still sitting on a time-bomb. As we passed these islands, one of the first things we noticed was the large cruise ships anchored in a large formation below the main town of Fira. Continuing on to the small port of Athenios, we could see the five cruise ships busy off-loading passengers onto motorized shuttle-craft, ferrying them ashore to explore the town of Fira. Just think, five ships . . . there were six before we left that day, each ship unloading thousands of passengers, almost more than the total population of the island. All of these cruisers have to shuttle ashore from the ship, then take a cable car up the cliff to the village of Fira. In the past, and even some today, can climb the hill on the back of a donkey. They are all anxious to get to the top of the cliff to overlook the caldera and the blue domed church that every Greek travel poster shows.
As our smaller ship docked at Athenios, a large tour bus snaked it’s way down the switch-back road to the port. “Much more civilized” we all thought, thinking about the cruise ship passengers being shuttled ashore then up the cliff. Soon we were all aboard, and we watched nervously as the driver carefully and very skillfully managed that huge beast up the long stretches of road between 180 degree hairpin turns . . . some too sharp to take in one try . . . he had to stop, back up a little, then go again.
While we made our slow, painful ascent, a humorous tour guide picked up his microphone and filled us in on a lot of the history, background and scenic detail of the island of Santorini, the towns of Fira and Oia.
At the top of this climb, we first arrived at the village of Fira, a monstrous tour bus forcing itself through the throngs of tourists, both walking and driving cars. Tourists were literally bouncing off the bus as we slowly crept along the street. The tour guide pointed out that “this wasn’t too bad, you should see it at peak season when it really gets busy!”
Eventually, we were deposited in the middle of this chaos to fend for ourselves for the next five or six hours, with strict instructions on when and where we had to meet the bus later. The entire area was one big tourist trap of high end shops, souvenirs and small eating establishments all designed to extract the maximum amount of money in the shortest possible time . . . remember, those tourists must return to their ships (including us).
Diana and I did a little shopping ourselves, and we did find some choice items to take home. It was a warm sunny day, so we decided to have a drink and some lunch. Considering the crowds, we were lucky to find a free table overlooking the caldera and the multiple cruise ships.
Before long, it was our turn to make our way back to our rendezvous point and enjoy another hair-raising ride down the cliff to our waiting ship. The entire day was an interesting experience and we were very glad we decided to take this little day-trip to Santorini
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