mbanck (mbanck) wrote,
mbanck
mbanck

Santorini

They say Santorini is the most beautiful of the greek islands. So far, I have been to Crete, Corfu and Zakynthos, and Santorini beats them hand down. Also, as Nat Friedman has pointed out: 'I think the best way to approach a city is probably from the water'. This is nowhere more applicable than for Santorini. Tina and I arrived there by plane and we had seats at the middle lane and did not see much of the island during the landing. When I got out of the airport, about the only landmark I noticed was a moderately big mountain which made me think 'Hmm, this looks a lot like the other greek islands I've been to'. We arrived quite late on Monday afternoon, so by the time we settled down at the hotel and walked around Fira (the main city on Santorini), the sun had already set. It was only one day later when I finally saw the Caldera, the true beauty of Santorini.

[photo]
Fira and the Caldera

What sets Santorini apart from all other greek islands is the volcanic eruption which formed the island at around 1600 BC. Back then, the island was roughly circle-shaped, but the disaster resulted in most of the inner parts of the island sinking below sea level and leaving only an outer ring (as well as two small volcanic islands in the center). While the outward coast of Santorini is looking quite ordinary (except that it is mostly of volcanic origin, as is the whole island), the inner coast is actually a sharp cliff called the Caldera. As Santorini surrounds the two inner islands by about 70 percent, you usually have a breathtaking view of this beautiful coastline wherever you are. If you arrive by ferry, you literally enter the island complex, surround the two inner rocks and then head towards the port, while watching the main city of Fira towering above you.

[photo]
Anna and Tobi in front of the crater sea

We lived in the same hotel Tobi and Anna stayed during their first trip to Santorini. It is located towards the main parts of the island and was thus quite cheap, though one could reach the Caldera after a five minute walk. The rooms were much nicer than what Anna's horror stories lead us to expect and there was even a small (too small, according to Tina) but nice pool.

[photo]
At the pool

Tobi and Anna arrived on Wednesday. They already spent a vacation on Santorini three years ago, so they already knew about the best places. This, and the fact Anna is greek made life so much easier for us. We usually got up at around noon or at some point afterwards. Then, I went to the nearby bakery and bought some baguette (if we were out of bread) and had some nice Tzatziki to kick off the day. The further daily routine involved meeting up with Tobi and Anna, going to the bus station and driving to one of Santorini's beaches.

[photo]
Kamari beach

It has to be said that the public transport system on Santorini is remarkably cheap, on time (Ana was getting more and more surprised by this fact and started to lose faith in this part of greek tradition) and well connected, so we had no difficulty getting around the island without booking one of those tourist trap bus tours. Considering that Santorini is a volcanic island, it is clear that there are few nice sand beaches. In fact, the sand is usually rather coarse (or the rocks are pretty small, depending on your point of view) and of dark color. The beaches we visited were at the east and south coast of Santorini (there are a couple at the north coast as well, but the bus connection is less good for them). We first went to Pernissa and then Camari, followed by the so-called red and black beaches at the south. The latter (along with white beach, which we dropped even though Tobi opted strongly for it) is only reachable by boat. The Pernissa and Camari beaches are pretty touristic, crowdy and ordinary (except for their dark 'sand'), but the colored beaches are of considerable beauty and called by the color of their sand.

[photo]
Red beach

We liked red beach the most so we decided to go there a second time on Sunday, unfortunately again bit late so we were not able to visit the excavations of Akrotiri, a city which fell prey to the volcano 3600 years ago (very similar to Pompei) and reportedly featured three-storey buildings and a sewer system by the time people in Germany were probably still living in caves.

Another big advantage of Santorini (over Zakynthos, for example) is the presence of a pedestrian precinct. Young people in Greece very much like to drive up and down the main street with the cars or motorcars, rendering any leisure strolling impossible. The cities of Fira, Firostephani and Ia however have also some nice small lanes with lots of cafes, restaurants and stores next to the Caldera where you can either stroll around or have dinner while enjoying the unique view. Which is what we did mostly in the evenings.

[photo]
Sunset at Ia

The best view you can get on the whole island is probably from the old castle tower in Ia. Pretty solid evidence for this is the fact that this point is the most crowded place of the whole city during sunset. Of course, any other random point at the edge of the caldera beats most other spots on this planet as well, most notably the so-called (by our german tourist guide book at least) 'Kraterrandgasse'. Tobi was continually looking for places to buy along that street, should he ever come around lots of money.

The first three places we went for dinners were pretty unspectacular (well, the restaurant Tina and I went to on Tuesday evening would have had a nice view if it had not been dark already). By far the most pleasant dinner we had was at 'Skaros Tavern' in Firostephani, one of the places Tobi and Anna already knew from their last visit to Santorini. It's located at the Kraterrandgasse between Firostefani and Imerovigli, features a regular breathtaking view and serves nothing but delicious food. We had some nice greek starters (scolloped Aubergines and with a wonderful sauce) and 'Chicken in a basket' as main dish. Another very nice place we ate was right at ocean below Ia in a fish tavern, however I did not like a lot what I ordered (fried squish, besides others) and the way back up to Ia afterwards was pretty hard. Sometimes during the day or for dinner we had small snacks which for me of course meant gyros pita.

[photo]
Tina did not manage to eat all of those cakes

To my displeasure, we did not go to one of Santorini's clubs at night. However, we once had at least the beginning of a nice Ouzo session and went outside of Fira to watch the stars during another night. One night we found a very cool place called 'Casablanca Suites', some way outside of Fira towards Firostephani. It is a very tastefully decorated Bar with comfortable sofas on the roof of a hotel which had nice greek music in the beginning and then switched to equally nice lounge music later on (probably because we arrived, though at least I did not mind the greek music) We were almost the only customers and the waitress and the barkeeper were very amiable. The other great place we went to was a place with live greek music. However, this was not one of those typical clubs where they play 'authentic folklore music' to entertain the tourists, but an authentic live bar, made by and for greek people (Tobi and I probably were the only foreign people, as Tina was too tired and did not want to stay). Despite Annas warnings, Tobi desperately wanted to go to this place (our tourist guide book mentioned it, along with the warning that tourists should not dance there unless explicitly invited). When we first arrived at around 11 PM, we were the only customers. By midnight, the band started playing and by 2 AM, the club was packed with people and some started to dance. The band consisted of three guys, one playing guitar (mostly as accompanist), one bouzouki (a guitar-like instrument very popular in greece) and one accordion. The music was superb, all players were highly skilled and had nice voices and the atmosphere was getting better and better as more people started to dance in the traditional way. At one point, Anna also began dancing and later begged us to dance as well. However, being reminded by the warning of the guide book and looking at the swiftness of the dancers' movements, we declined. Anna then danced with one of the greek guys (greek girls dancing traditionally is pretty nice to the eye in any event). I left the place at around 3:30 AM, Tobi and Anna stayed longer and apparently had a small argument when Anna asserted that it was due to Tobi's pissed off look that the other guy came around to excuse himself dancing with Anna twice, while Tobi questioned the notion that 'greek dancing is completely platonic'.

[photo]
Anna at the Casablanca Suites bar

Other activities included having cakes and coffee in one of the nice cafes or just walking along Fira at night. It has to be said that I got hooked up by the Santorinian ice coffees, especially something called 'Fredo' and 'Frappe', something I have not yet seen in Germany. Anna and even more so Tina instead got hooked up by the nice cakes, so towards the end we spent most of our evenings in cafes.

[photo]
Nice view from that Cafe

Santorini is truly are marvelous place and at least I would like to return to it some day. It is no coincidence that a lot of greek couples get married there.

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