Santorini Day 2 – Fira, Ancient Thira, Kamari Beach & Oia

We went to a tour agency yesterday to check for packages to visit some of the best features of Santorini: the volcano island Nea Kameni, the hot springs at Palia Kameni as well as the nearby island Thirasia. But silly us should have realized that ferry services are not existent during the winter months. There went our hopes to spend sometime away from the main Santorini island.

Since that didn’t work out, we planned for another day excursion around the island, using my faithful Lonely Planet as a guide but mostly just following our fancy. If you have the time to kill, just drive around the island. Trust me, you’ll have more fun that way.

The Town of Fira

First off we went recce around Fira, since most likely we’ll spending the last day here in the main town. I had always told Liping for us to head for the caldera edge, since we never did that in broad daylight. Our nightly walk around the mostly deserted walkways around Fira might not do the town justice.

And true enough, but just venturing a little further from where we used to frequent, the incredible sight above greeted us. Views from the edge of the caldera over multicoloured cliffs were breathtaking. Though it is not as serene as the sight that was Oia, it was a relief to find that Fira packed a punch as well, befitting its title as the main town of Santorini.

The Town of Fira

While walking around the quiet and almost as-dead-as-Oia town of Fira, I discovered that the cable service was still running! Okay, perhaps it was just carrying some empty cable cars up and down the cliff towards the old port of Fira Skala, but it was a relief to see it nonetheless. Later on I discovered that the cable service do run during winter, but only from 8.00 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the morning, and between 3.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon.

Check out my set of photos of my first trip around Fira; I’ll be back for more tomorrow!

Ancient Thira

We got started on our day trip and our first stop was Ancient Thira. This old settlement of the Dorians consists of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ruins, which include temples, houses with mosaics, an agora (market), a theatre and a gymnasium. Okay, so that sentence was word-for-word from Lonely Planet, but it got me all excited to see some real Greek ruin at last! But like all things in Santorini during winter…

Ancient Thira

The bloody place was closed as well! We stopped our car somewhere before the start of a steep, rocky climb up the hill towards the site for these photos. From where we were, you have a splendid view of Kamari and the surrounding town. By now the wind was blowing very, very strongly and the chill of Santorinian winter started to bite into my bones. Soon we headed back into the car to drive down to Kamari.

Kamari Beach

And what a sight Kamari was! Kamari is 10 km from Fira and is Santorini’s best-developed resort. It has a long beach of black sand, with the rugged limestone cliffs of Cape Mesa Vouno framing its southern end. The beachfront road is dense with restaurants and bars, though everything was closed during our visits – I would imagine things get very busy here in high seasons.

Kamari Beach

This was the first time in my life I see a black beach in my life. The wind was very strong here, and the waves crashed to the shore with a ferocity that will put the fear into your heart. The sea was very treacherous at this time. I was determined to take a photo of myself with the big waves, so I asked Liping to shoot one while I perch myself on some of the large stones along the beach. I should have known better. A split second after the photo above was taken, the waves engulfed my legs and I was soaking wet! Worth the shot though.

Again, we had the entire beach to ourselves save for some exceptionally friendly stray dogs. I guess these dogs were very used to human presence during summer time, when this place will be packed to the max. So during the winter month, when tourists were scarce, they will approach whoever for some affection and perhaps some warmth.

Not that I minded, but Liping was freaked out one of them might just paw at her like the other night. LOL.

This set of photos taken at Ancient Thira and Kamari black beach definitely worth a visit, as you can see the true extend of the beauty these two places were.

Right after Kamari, we started to make our way to Oia again in the hope of catching the famous sunset view, making a few more unchartered stops along the way. Seriously unchartered because for the life of me I couldn’t identify where we were at times, but we just know the places were beautiful.

On the way to Oia

Our first stop was the Argyro’s Canava, one of the oldest wineries on the island and home to various wine museums and shops like the one pictured above. I had never visited a winery before and hence wanted to visit one, but alas most of these places were closed during winter so my search around this area was in vain.

On the way to Oia

We came across a sign pointing towards Pyrgos, and so that was our next stop. This wasn’t marked as recommended destination in Lonely Planet, and it is easy to know why. There is no interesting spot to take note of, but the sight at this hilltop town was pretty awesome. Look at the photo above. Churning sea, white-foamed waves and rolling dark clouds. Now close your eyes – can you imagine how strong the wind was? We couldn’t stay more than 10 minutes on the cliff because of the biting chill. Soon we were back into the car make our way to Oia, passing by the town of Fira again in the process.

And I just have to show you what a dangerous drive that was.

On the way to Oia

This photo was taken by risking the lives of Liping and I. See the steep incline to my left, right behind me? Now imagine a sheer drop to the sea with little or no barrier along the roadside, a wind strong enough to bend even the tallest trees, and a car so small that it rattled whenever the wind was too much to bear. That was the kind of stress I had to go through when I drive to Oia. At one point of the ride, I can see the Sea of Crete to my left and Aegean Sea on my right. That was how narrow that strip of the island was. Now imagine doing all that again under the cover of darkness on the drive back.

Gosh, that was one thrilling ride. Despite the horrendous I described it, I would still want to do it again. LOL.

The Port of Ammoudi

Driving past our stopping point in Oia yesterday, we followed the road signs to reach the small port of Ammoudi. If you are driving, follow the signs that says “Bay of Ammoudi”. If you are walking from Oia, take the 300-steps down from the tip of the cliff (see the zigzag stairs in the photo, just above my head). This is a tiny port with some tavernas and colourful fishing boat. During summer, boats and tours will go from here to Thirasia (a neighbouring island) daily. During our visit, the whole place was deserted with no human activities to speak of (although I am sure there were people lurking around because of some parked cars). Ammoudi is worth visiting is you want to take dramatic photos featuring Oia (top of photo), red-stone cliff (mid of photo) and beautiful sea (bottom of photo).

The only restaurant open in Oia

After Ammoudi, we drove around area to discover more closed taverns and sunset view points. In fact, the weather was so gloomy that the probability of seeing any sun at all was close to zero. Admitting defeat, Liping and I headed to one of the very, very few shops still functioning in winter Oia. Like the café above, where I satisfied my craving for an oily, meat-laden omelette. The café was run by a very friendly family (they had their meal while we were there, a truly heart warming experience) and they use old-fashioned wood fire to warm up the place!

We went to walk around Oia one last time (no more photo taking since we have shot enough yesterday) just to enjoy the peace, and guess what we have found?

Excursion to Oia: Atlantis Books

A bookstore. Actually I discovered Atlantis Books yesterday during our first visit. This photo was taken then as I find it very, very attractive to be nestled in a corner like this, with a charming shopfront display.

Today, when walked past, I realized there were lights on, and a sign was saying “If you are open, we are open”.

How could we resist? So we went down the stairs, and stepped into the world of my dream.

Handmade bookshelves. Well-loved books. Classical music. Staff recommended titles (with handwritten reviews!). Funny memorabilia (like letters between the shop owner and a debt collection agency; it was hilarious). Warm, soft glow. Living corners right there in the shop – dining table, sleeping beds, sofa…

There is a description of how Atlantis Books was stated on their website, so I won’t repeat it here. We met Chris, the owner-in-residence at that time, and two very friendly chaps from England. One was reading some very serious-looking paper but playing with a very adorable kitten at the same time, and one was very sportingly showed us how he could disappear through the roof and reappear at the front door, and then came back in through a hidden door. Such was the magic of Santorini.

In fact, it was during this visit that Liping and I vowed to come back to here again, specifically to Oia to experience its magic during summer. It had also revived my dream to run my own bookshop. I wish I could get to know the shop staff better, but it was getting dark and I still have to make the 16 km drive back to Fira. So we bade our farewell after buying some shop-produced postcards from them.

Hey guys, if you are reading this, we will be back!

Here’s the set of photos of my second trip to Oia.

Fira is alive at night! What a relief

Soon we were back to Fira and, surprise surprise! The whole town seems to come alive tonight! We spent some happy minutes browsing at some shops before I headed off to the nearby Town Café for some internet therapy.

Spending some Internet time at Town Cafe

Apparently, yes. When I was about to leave, the group of playful youths I met at Town Club during my first night here walked through the door, and the kid who asked to dance with recognized me and waved hi.

So we had a little chat. Christy was all of 17 year-old and he stays in Fira. He asked why I come to Santorini in winter and not in summer, when things wouldn’t be so dead? I asked him what he will be doing for the night, and he said he will be hanging out at Town Café (which is right behind Town Club) with his friends, playing and all.

Gorgeous Greek Food

True enough, they were still here when I return after a delicious but oversized dinner at the nearby Tarvena Simos (Note: This tarvena was run by a very friendly lady who speaks excellent English and can recommend great food. We had a delicious platter of fried calamari. I had the traditional mouzhuka and ouza, which tasted suspiciously like raki I tried in Istanbul). Some of the lads chatted with me, but all of them were very boisterous over something that I couldn’t understand. So I left them to it while I stayed online to chat with Cheryl who was amazingly awake at that time of the night (it was 4 plus in the morning in Singapore).

All in all, a pretty good night. But lethargy took over me, so decided to come back early, blog this and go to sleep.

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