Greece Santorini 2001.06.01 - 06.06

Greek Island

With its pure white buildings against a deep blue ocean, Masami longed to visit Santorini. Santorini is the southern-most island in the Cyclades group in the Aegean Sea. Located 10 hours away from the mainland by ferry, the island is remote enough to detour visits by hoards of weekend tour groups, yet it has all the amenities any traveler could hope for. The wealthy employed have a wide selection of expensive shopping. Party people have discos and bars. Honeymooners have private cliff-side balconies overlooking the ocean hundreds of meters below. There's something for everyone, and the views are gorgeous in all directions.

Daily flights and ferries run between Athens and Santorini. Airfare is considerably more expensive and costs several hundred US$. The ferry is more reasonable. Prices depend on the type of boat departing that day, but this is a good approximation: a tourist-class seat is dr 5600 (about US$14), a bunk bed in a 4-bed cabin is dr 9000, and a private double cabin is dr 15,000 per person. Tourist-class seats are first-come basis, and cabin beds are reserved. Tourist Information offices and travel agents have the daily-changing ferry schedules. From Athens, ferries depart from Piraeus Port. The metro takes about 20 minutes from downtown Athens to Piraeus Port where it terminates directly in front of the ferry docks. Ferry tickets can be purchased at ticket offices at the port or, for a little extra, at travel agents in downtown Athens. Travel time is about 10 hours and most of the ferries travel overnight.

Ferries landing at Santorini are greeted by a dozen hotel and private-house owners looking for guests. The Lonely Planet warns that some of these people make promises beyond their means just to get tourists to their hotel where they can increase the sales pressure. Masami disembarked with a surprisingly clear head, waving off the hotel touts and leading a groggy Wes to the shuttle bus (dr 400 per person) that runs between Athinios Port and the center of Fira where we wanted to stay. When we disembarked the bus at the terminal stop in the center of town, 2 hotel people were waiting. They offered even lower prices than those at the port. A woman wanted to rent a small clean double room sharing a bathroom with 2 other rooms for dr 2000 per person (US$5). The location was central and the value for money seemed extraordinarily good, but we declined because of insufficient direct sunlight. A man wanted to rent a spacious super-clean double room with private bathroom for dr 3000 per person. Located 7 minutes walk north of town, it wasn't as convenient, but we fell in love with the place. The room price posted on the door was dr 13,000. We stayed for less than half price for 5 nights and didn't want to leave (see Hotel Afrodete on the Greece - Lodging Guide page).

Intending to recover from Egypt, our main activity was to sit on the pure white terrace of Hotel Afrodete and gaze out to the grape vine pastures and Aegean Sea. Sometimes we read. Sometimes we ate. Sometimes we pet the neighborhood cat. It was all available on that terrace.

North of Fira are the towns of Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia. All have picture perfect church domes and bell towers. Strolling through these towns is a highlight of Santorini.

Santorini travel agents sell daily morning and afternoon boat trips for dr 4000 per person to a neighboring volcanic island and "hot spring". We chose the afternoon departure. It left Korfos Port at exactly 14:00 (This is the ONLY transport we rode in Greece that actually left on time.) and dropped us off on Néa Kameni Island where an active volcano emits sulfurous gasses. Aside from solidified lava deposits from earlier eruptions, there was little to see or do. The next stop was Paléa Kameni Island where we could swim in heated sea water - what the travel agents term "hot spring". Our boat anchored about 100 meters from the warm source. We jumped into a cold choppy ocean to swim toward the spring. Advice: if you're not a good swimmer, skip this part of the tour. We learned that Masami isn't a good swimmer. Half way between the boat and the "hot spring", she panicked and thought she would drown. With a bit of effort, Wes pulled her the remaining distance to safety in shallow water. 5 minutes later, the boat signaled for us to return. Masami expressed hopelessness. "I can't make it that far." There wasn't much alternative. We struggled back to the boat but made it. Masami shivered on the boat ride all the way back to Santorini. It was probably partly the cold and partly fear.

Many of the restaurants along the pedestrian road through Fira are bad. The only decent food we found was at Mamas on the main road about 5 minutes walk north of town center.

For Internet, go to the main square in Fira. It just says "Internet" and it's on the second floor. The cost is dr 700 for 30 minutes or dr 1000 for 60 minutes. Floppies and FTP from DOS both work. The connection speed is good. Don't bother going to the flashier Lava Internet Cafe that heavily advertises 25% happy hour discount prices. At dr 2000 for 60 minutes, it's still more expensive than "Internet" and the connection speed is much, much slower.

The highest hill in the town of Firostefani overlooks this blue-domed church with bell tower. In the distance is the flat Néa Kameni Island volcano.

This yellow colored church and clock town is in the center of Fira.

The pedestrian path leading from Fira to Imerovigli passes this church dome and bell tower.

The town of Oia is the furthest north and probably the most expensive place to stay or shop on Santorini.

Most evenings we walked to a cliff on the edge of town to watch the sunset.

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