After such a long day yesterday, Liping and I woke at about 10 a.m. After a coffee and a Santorini-briefing offered by the hotel owner, we decided to do a little road trip to the coastline of the island by renting a car!
â€œDoryâ€ is a two-seater smart car that we rented from an agency in Santorini. It cost us EUR50 for two days, but I think it was damn worth it. At first I wanted to get an ATV, but considering the weather and the fact that we do have quite a bit of stuff on us, a car made more sense. With Dory we traveled the length of the island for the entire day.
Fantastic, fabulous Santorini deserves all the superlatives. Even the most jaded traveler succumbs to the awesome drama of this surreal landscape, relic of what was probably the biggest eruption in recorded history.
Santorini is famous for the caldera and its vast curtain wall of multicoloured cliffs is truly awesome. The village of Oia on the northern tip of the island is hugely popular sunset viewing site because there is an uninterrupted view of the sun as it finally sinks below the horizon. From farther south down the caldera edge, the last of the setting sun can be obscured by the islands of Nea Kameni and Thirasia.
During the excursion we ventured into nooks and corners of Santorini, making pit stops whenever we fancied so. As a result we took lots of photos of places we have no idea about, but stunning nonetheless.
The landscape behind me was very unique and I am pretty sure it was because of the earthquakes Santorini is so famous for. Minor eruptions have been the norm in Greeceâ€™s earthquake record, but Santorini has bucked the trend â€“ and with an attitude â€“ throughout history. Eruptions here were genuinely earth-shattering, and so wrenching that they changed the shape of the entire island several times.
Despite my smile, I was scared out of my wits sitting on the ledge like this. Hidden out of view is a sheer drop of a cliff that will…. kill me if I just slip and fall!
The first common tourist destination we arrived at was Perivolos Beach, one of the few black sand beaches in Santorini. Purely coincidental actually, as we intended to go to the southwest end of the island first, but for some reason we navigated our way to the southeast instead. With the exception of a few local anglers here, we had the entire beach to ourselves. We could almost imagine how pack this place will be during summer. Shops after shops lined the beachfront, with innumerable cafes and, of course, stray dogs. Many of them.
We backtracked our way to the southeast end of the island, to visit the prehistoric town of Akrotini. Excavations here at this Minoan outpost that was buried during the catastrophic eruption of 1650 BC, began in 1967 and have uncovered an ancient city beneath the volcanic ash. Buildings, some three storeys high, date back to the late 16th century. Such steep history on this dramatic island made the site a captivating visit.
During our visit, the site is closed, and not only because its winter. One visitor was killed and several others injured when a section of the roof collapsed during the summer of 2005, and the official investigation is still pending.
Next we went on to the Red Beach, which is located near to Ancient Akrotini. In my opinion, this is not really a beach, but rather a stretch of stony edge to the sea (ideal of snorkeling and diving), leading up to a hillside of truly stunning views. Red Beach has high red cliffs and smooth, hand-sized pebbles submerged under clear water. It was also here I acted out my â€œdreamâ€ â€“ to sing The Winner Takes It All from the movie Mamma Mia on a cliff in Santorini. Had the time of my life here.
It was a magical moment for me, one that I will remember for a long time.
We made a few more pit stops after Red Beach (like the one above â€“ you can see Liping at the far end of the cliff) after unsuccessfully trying to find the White Beach. Also managed to do a short video clip during one of my many pit stops. You can view more pictures from my day excursion on Flickr here.
After that Liping managed to persuade me to drive all the way up north to the famous town of Oia some 16 km away. The drive to Oia was truly hair raising. The way was steep and runs along high cliffs hugging the rocking terrain, with sheer drop to the sea on both sides. This was the first time in my life while driving that I can see the sea on my right and my left at the same time. As I was driving a left-seated car on right-sided road for the first time, I was in on a nerve-wrecking half-hour ride.
But the end destination was worth it.
The village of Oia (ee-ah), known locally as Pano Meria, was so devastated by the 1956 earthquake that it became something of a ghost town for a while. However, there is little evidence of that period because of good restoration work and upmarket tourism have transformed Oia into an attractive place. Though quieter than tourist-frenzied Fira, its streets still have their share of trendy boutiques and expensive jewellery shops. Built on a steep slope of the caldera, many of its dwellings nestle in niches hewn into the volcanic rock. Oia, believe it or not, gets more sunset time than Fira.
That was precisely the reason why we made the some 20 km drive to the northern tip of Santorini to visit Oia – to catch the famous sunset. However during our visit, the skyline was gloomy and it rained halfway during our trip here. There was no sunset for us. The place was literally a ghost town. Windows were boarded up and â€œcloseâ€ signs were displayed everywhere as Oia residents went into hibernation during winter months waiting for the summer to come again. In fact, out of hundreds of shops here, I counted only three were open â€“ a mini market, a restaurant and an internet cafÃ© â€“ no doubt to keep the town functioning but barely.
We had the entire town to ourselves, and we loved it. The whole place was so beautiful it took my breath away, and it was so peaceful I could barely bring myself to leave. The buildings here were built right into the cliff of the mountain overlooking the Aegan Sea. Shops were nestled into little nooks and corners, with cobbled and narrow passageway snake around the haphazardly built multi-coloured building. It felt like being oversized candy factory. The only sound I could hear was the cry of seagulls, the crashing of the sea, and my own breathing. It was an awesome experience I couldnâ€™t really describe, and only Oia in winter can give me that.
Please check out my Flickr set of photos taken at the beautiful Oia, as words failed me to justify its beauty.
After a somewhat less scary ride back to the town of Fira in the gathering darkness, Liping and I had a nap before heading out to dinner at a taverna (Greek for cafÃ© here) nearby. Walked around to check out the clubs and pubs we went to last night, but the entire Fira seems to be asleep. Perhaps it was winter Sunday. It was raining slightly and the wind was bitingly cold.
So we decided to head back to our room for an early night. I really hope Athens in winter will be much better than this. I loved the solitude, but a bit of a holiday crowd will make a good change to the pace of things.