Monday, 10 September 2012

It is the quintessential Greek Isle

I'm talking about the island of Santorini, the southern-most of the Cyclades group in the south Aegean Sea. The island is the summit of an ancient volcano which erupted in 1600BC. The caldera is truly impressive when you watch your cruise ship moving across it. What a volcano that must have been, and what a catastrophic explosion.

There is speculation (not without some reason) that Santorini is equivalent to the lost Atlantis mentioned by Plato. The eruption was gigantic; a great many times bigger than the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii and bigger than Krakatoa later on.

In his book Volcanoes in Human History, de Boer links the eruption to the demise of the Minoan civilisation. The seafaring Minoan culture was based on Crete, which is only a few dozen miles from Santorini. At the time of the eruption, they dominated that part of the ancient Mediterranean. When the volcano erupted, the Minoans would have been hit by tsunamis, over-water pyroclastic flows, and fires from oil lamps knocked over by the eruption's shockwave. Goodbye civilisation.

To land you must transfer to a small craft, chug to a tiny pier and then bus to where you want to go. As you approach the island you notice the white buildings sprinkled all along the edges of the cliffs, rather like icing sugar or bird guano. Anticipation mounts, you can sense it's going to be different to what you've seen before. The main town is Thera (Fira) but we weren't heading there. We wanted to see the beautiful little town of Oia.

It's picture postcard perfect: the blue of the Aegean, the white-painted buildings, the blue shutters. Everything is clean, cared for, touristy but at the topend where taste oozes from the shops and kitchy trinkets are harder to find.

 The perched restaurants, the cats sunning themselves on chairs and stone steps (there are a LOT of cats in Greece), the art galleries, hand-made wares. If you want to know more about what's on offer, what you can do there, visit

I loved this place at first sight and didn't mind all the up and down mountain-goat climbing we had to do. Mostly we were left to wander and that was the best part. I just like to explore under my own steam, take an alley and see what's around the corner. I was amused to see framed doorways with gates practically hovering in space. Obviously they led down via steps to private homes but to see them free-standing was novel for me- rather like a time portal where curiosity made you want to take a risk and walk through. But they were locked.

Needing a comfort stop we quaffed a cold soft drink at a picturesque restaurant. The heat was intense but we were so focussed on soaking up the experience that we noticed the discomfort less than we would have done normally. A young couple had ordered a meal and a bottle of white wine. I could see JC looking at that wistfully but we didn't have time to do that, we weren't staying the night in the village.

After giving the main discovery areas an investigation I went in search of something to buy to remind me of this beautiful place. Merchandise is more expensive but it's much better quality. I'd spent the whole trip up to this point trying to find some pottery to bring back that would not get broken in the luggage. I'd come away with nothing because plates and bowls were too much of a risk and you have to be careful of the place of origin (made in China was a constant fear). My eyes lit on a cute little handmade vase in navy, turquoise and white with a fine crackle of the glaze. To me it really does say "Greek Islands".

There were many art galleries with new ideas which were interesting but were not for me. On an impulse I stepped into a shop that sold limited edition prints. Woah! The prints weren't tacky and one of them screamed 'take-me'. It was a view of Oia houses and churches at sunrise or sunset over the sea. Warm colours of terracotta and blues - absolutely me so JC bought me one and one for himself. He too was really taken by it. I just need to find a good framer.

Another interesting shop specialised in puppets. So colourful but not practical in my appartment. Jewellery, clothing; there was something for everyone. I'd highly recommend a visit and there are accommodation options there too.

Santorini has archeological sites on the island but we only had the afternoon to get there, visit and get back all the way to the ship. The sun was setting as we chugged back to the Louis Olympia. I just had time to watch the lights come on, on the cruise ships, as we powered away from our last island visit, cruising back to the port of Pireus at Athens. Magical.


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