Note: Our trip to Greece is so breathtaking that we needed to split it into four-and-a-half blog posts to cover it all. This is part four. You can skip ahead to the epilogue, if you'd like, or you can go back to parts one, two, or three. But take your time--it's really beautiful!
In our travels in Greece, we ran into only one minor problem with transportation: strikes. On the day we landed in Heraklion the taxis were all on strike, so we had to take a bus to the hotel--not too bad. On the day before our trip to Santorini, we got an email saying that our ferry back from Santorini had been canceled--bad.* We called several people and, after being given the run-around a few times, we learned that all that matters in Greece is if the tickets are in your hand. So we were able to track down a travel agent that was still open, exchange our ticket (for free, fortunately), and hop on a ferry to Santorini, knowing that we'd make it back to Heraklion and the airport. (Moral of the story--when you go to Greece and have ferry tickets, pay the fee to have them mailed to you--it's best to keep the tickets in hand.)
What we saw in Santorini was worth all of the stress (and expense) of getting there. It was stunning. We were staying in Perissa, a small town (they're all small towns) on the southeast side of the main island. There wasn't much by way of a gorgeous city like in Oia or Fira (see below), but the beach was amazing. Phenomenally clear water, beautifully black sand, two mountains and cliffs as a backdrop--it was fantastic. We spent time on both Wednesday and Thursday at the beach, just because we could.
We played in the water (which, though not terribly warm, was a lot warmer than the Pacific and Lake Tahoe, and surprisingly salty), we lay on the beach, and we skipped rocks. Near the beach we found a very odd sculpture of a donkey surrounded by five moons that I just must share--it'd have Galileo rolling in his grave.
After our time at the beach on Wednesday, we hopped a city bus to Oia (pronounced EE-uh), the city on the northwest corner of the main island. It was amazing. To illustrate:
This was the view at sunset--the entire city/island looked spectacular. All of the houses/buildings are built into the cliffs, which themselves are quite steep, and overlook the Mediterranean (Aegean) Sea on three sides. We were absolutely enchanted. Sara and I walked around the narrow streets for about 45 minutes as the sun was setting, looking at the water, the windmills, the houses, and the art galleries and other artsy things. We also went out for a fancy dinner for the first time in months. Here's a sampler of what we saw; the rest is, of course, at Flickr.
One of the most beautiful things there were the vacation homes for rent with the swimming pools carved into the cliffside. Yes, the pools themselves were cut into the rock and accessible from the house. I'd highly recommend this type of accommodation, if not for the €230/night price tag. In the low season. (Sorry, I don't have pictures from the poolsides--couldn't get past the guards at the gate.)
We went back to Perissa for the night (where, by the way, we stayed in a really cute and relatively inexpensive hotel called Zorzis. If you're going and want to be by the beach, check it out). In the morning we had breakfast and went to the beach again, then took a bus to Fira (sometimes written Thira), the capital city of Santorini, located roughly in the center of the island. (You can look at a map here.) While not quite as spectacular at Oia, it was still really great. For example, this beautiful church:
Or this overlook (where you can see Oia in the far background):
Or this view of the city itself, where you can maybe see one of the pools carved into the cliff (it's bright blue):
And here's a rough idea of the houses built into the cliffside:
After our time in Fira we headed back to the port and caught our (new, rescheduled!) ferry back to Heraklion, our last hotel, and eventually the airport. It was really sad to leave, but that island was perhaps the best part of the whole trip. Certainly because it was gorgeous, but also because I wasn't working and we just had some time together.
I think I can best summarize our feelings about Santorini by the following picture. This is Sara, overlooking Oia with the most genuine smile. I've seen that smile a few times before, but not too often. (For comparison, our wedding day was one of them.)
By the way, I should clarify that Santorini is the remnant of a volcano--still active, but mostly doused with water; hence the title of this post. There are several islands in the grouping and they form the southernmost part of the Cyclades group of Greece. More on that at Wikipedia. Heck, more on everything at Wikipedia.
To the Epilogue! Or learn more about Minoan History.
*Contrast that with my coworkers who, having planned to fly home on Wednesday, had to change their plans and fly to Paris early on Thursday morning because the air traffic controllers were on a 24-hour strike on Wednesday. Or with the fact that all of our connections in Greece worked just fine; however, our first train connection in Germany trying to get home to Aachen was messed up and we missed our train. German efficiency.