Visiting Santorini Hong Kong is like stepping into a Greek heaven. The staff speak to you in a slightly Greek-accented English. The ambiance is heavy with Greece-influence – from the pastel-coloured wall to the soothing Hellenic background music. It is certainly a captivating experience, especially so if you have been to Greece and experienced the magic of it’s beautiful island.
It was also at Santorini Hong Kong when I tasted probably the best moussaka in my life, even better than those I have tried in the country itself! Since that visit I have caught up with the head chef Andreas Sourdas for his view on Greek food, on doing business in Hong Kong and his favourite dishes.
For people new to Greek cuisine – how would you describe the difference between Greek food to other European cuisine?
The Greek cuisine is one of the oldest in the world, dating back some 4,000 years. It’s the base of the Mediterranean cuisine rich in extra virgin olive oil, sun-drenched fresh produce, seafood from the crystal clear waters of the Aegean sea and a bit lighter on red meat. Simplicity separates it from other cuisines. BBQ is our main way of cooking, adding at the end extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice served with lightly boiled vegetables.
Great Greek dinner at a restaurant named after our favorite island! The food at Santorini Hong Kong was amazing, especially the moussaka (pictured below) with the light-as-air mozzarella top and intense minced meat. The chef is Greek and the place a great reminder of what we left behind at the end of that amazing summer holiday (of which I have yet to blog about!)
Now I wish I had taken more notes of my great dinner that night. Definitely worth a visit, even if you are new to Greek food. Check out their online gallery to see for yourself the beautiful restaurant.
After some months of waiting, it is finally here. For some weeks there I thought they have ran away with my money.
It was entirely by accident that I discovered Atlantis Books during my excursion around Santorini when I visited Greece in 2008. It was winter, most of the island was deserted and we were desperate for some human contact.
I have just been there last year, but undeniably the island has a pull on me. Should I go again? This time perhaps hopping over to Mykonos too. And it’s just after summer, so things will still be glorious but less crowded.
Though, I do wish that I have someone to go with me.
I can’t believe it. I am done. Done with 22 days worth of blog posts for the holiday of a lifetime.
If you are reading this and wondered why my blogging has kinda taken a back seat recently – now you know. I am still blogging, but backdated. To document my 22 days journey to Istanbul, Santorini, Athens and London in December 2008. It took much longer than expected, what’s with literally 1000+ photos and memories of all the places I have visited.
But blog I did. And it is with great pride that I share with you my story of the holiday of a lifetime. Please show your appreciation for my hardwork by leaving comments! :D
Istanbul, Turkey (12th Dec 2008 ~ 19 Dec 2008)
Day 1 (12th Dec)
Departure from Singapore. Spent the night with the lovely Cheryl and adorable Shafik.
Day 2 (13th Dec)
First day in Istanbul. Checked in to Bahaus Guesthouse (my backpacker accommodation of choice) before venturing aroun Sultanahmet area on my own, since Liping will arrive only in the evening. Night time was spent traipsing around the backpackers street.
Day 3 (14th Dec)
Second day in Istanbul. Visited the various famous landmarks: Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Arasta Bazaar, Hippodrome and Basilica Cistern, among others. Spent the night at the backpackers street again.
Day 4 (15th Dec)
Third day in Istanbul. Visited the extremely-touty Grand Bazaar, had my first Turkish bath experience at Cemberlitas Hamam, walked across the Golden Horn via Galata Bridge to visit Istiklal Cadessi. Spent the night having an aboslutely fabulous (if a little pricey) dinner.
Day 5 (16th Dec)
Fourth day in Istanbul. Spent the day doing an excursion to the lesser known Western District, and visited Mihrimah Sultan Camii, Chora Church, Sultan Selim Cami, Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate and Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars. Had the infamous “balik” (fish) sandwich along the Golden Horn.
Day 6 (17th Dec)
Fifth day in Istanbul. Spent most of the day at the HUGE Topkapi Palace, one of the most important Islamic Empire historic site in the world. The place easily takes up to six hours to explore fully. We didn’t, as we also took a ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul, to the town of Uskudar.
Day 7 (18th Dec)
Sixth day in Istanbul. It had been a tiring five days for us in Istanbul so far, so we did something a little different and took the Bosphorus Straits Cruise. The Cruisie ended at Anadolu Kavagi, where we hiked up to a fortress and saw, for the first time in my life, the Black Sea.
Day 8 (19th Dec)
Seventh, and the last day in Istanbul. We covered the last attraction spot of Istanbul and made a trip to the Princes’ Island. Got to know a Brazilian chap, Jose, together with whom we made an awesome threesome for the excursion. Spent the day ferrying from island to island, before spending the early part of the night at Galata Tower and Istiklal Cadessi, and finally a wild night of partying at Bahaus Guesthouse with fellow backpackers. They were awesome!
Full set of Istanbul blog posts here, full set of Istanbul photos here.
Santorini, Greece (20th Dec 2008 ~ 23rd Dec 2008)
Day 9 (20th Dec)
Enroute to Santorini, where our flight from Istanbul to Athens was delayed, and hence we missed the connecting flight to Santorini. Had to take an evening flight instead, which was also delayed! By the time we checked in to Hotel Antonio (which was GREAT, by the way), it was past 10 p.m. We were dead tired, but still managed to check out the nightlife of Santorini. Good thing we did, because the town of Fira was alive only that particular night while we were there!
Day 10 (21st Dec)
Santorini Day 1 – Liping and I rented a car for a land excursion around the beautiful island of Santorini. Visited a number of places, such as the Perivolos Beach (a black sand beach), Akrotini (ancient city site), Red Beach (where I sang my heart out) and our first visit to Oia. Oia is so beautiful that I could cry.
Day 11 (22nd Dec)
Santorini Day 2 – Walked around the main town of Fira, where we stayed, before hitting the road to explore Kamari and Ancient Thira. Ended up at Oia again in the hope of catching a true Santorinian sunset (no such luck), but some interesting experiences awaited us instead. Involving an ancient wood heater and a bookshop.
Day 12 (23rd Dec)
Santorini Day 3 – Our last day on this beautiful island. We remained at Fira, where we finally, finally caught a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset, and got to know a friendly (and potentially stray) dog which we named Raki. We left for Athens the very same night.
Full set of Santorini blog posts here, full set of Santorini photos here.
Athens, Greece (24th Dec 2008 ~ 28th Dec 2008)
Day 13 (24th Dec)
First day in Athens! Reached our accommodation of choice, Athens Backpackers, the night before. Had a 2-hour walking tour in the morning, before embarking on our journey to the famous sights of Athens – Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Roman Agora. We even witnessed Greek riot police in action!
Day 14 (25th Dec)
It’s Christmas Day! Despite being in one of the most scenic cities in the world, the day was less glamourous than it sounds. But fun nonetheless. Had a communal kind of Christmas lunch celebrations (involving some vege chopping and a 5-hour wait for a piece of turkey!), and some nice time with fellow backpackers. Certainly an interesting way to spend Christmas!
Day 15 (26th Dec)
It’s Boxing Day! But alas, the day did not start well when our plan to visit the nearby Delphi was foiled. The best part of the day happened at night, when I had a whale of night trawling the nightlift of Athens with one Swiss dude and two German lads.
Day 16 (27th Dec)
Once again, our attempt to go to Delphi was foiled by an idiotic cab driver who sent us to the wrong bus station. We thought all hope were lost… until we finally managed to visit the National Archaeological Museum of Greece. I also managed to get a winter jacket from Zara at Ermou Street (akin to Orchard Road in Singapore). The last night in Athens was spent in a drunken haze… oh, the drama! I like! Heh.
Day 17 (28th Dec)
Final morning in Athens was spent having a leisurely breakfast at Athens Backpackers, and an unhurried train ride to the airport. I had a nice 4-hour flight on EasyJet towards London. LONDON! I can’t believe that I am finally in London. By the time we reached Liping’s house in Maida Vale, night has fallen. After having an authentic British pub grub nearby, I decided to call it an early night.
Full set of Athens blog posts here, full set of Athens photos here
London, United Kingdom (29th Dec 2008 ~ 2nd Jan 2009)
Day 18 (29th Dec)
London Day 1! I was still grasping with the realisation that I was in London. Spent the entire day exploring the famous sights of London, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Park, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and London Bridge. Met up with James and his friend. Also explored Soho at night. Had a wonderful time. I really, really like London!
Day 19 (30th Dec)
London Day 2. Made my way to Chinatown late morning and had a leisurely brunch. Caught an afternoon Matinee show of Les Miserables, in which I shamelessly cried my way through the three hour musical. Met up with Liping, Huisi, Huili and Melvin at night for a roast duck dinner and pubbing.
Day 20 (31st Dec)
London Day 3, and it’s New Year’s Eve! Decided to make a day trip to the university town of Oxford. My main purpose was to visit the shoot location of Harry Potter. Being at Christ Church was a heady experience – you have to see the photos (the Great Hall of Hogwarts, OMG) to have an inkling what I have seen. Also managed to go to King Cross Station for the famous Platform 3/4, before headed towards the London Eye to join almost half a million Londoners welcoming the new year in a celebration of fireworks, drinks (with videos!)… and rowdiness and huge human jam. Awesome and terrifying all at the same time.
Day 21 (1st Jan)
Happy New Year! Decided to cover two famous London landmarks on my last day here – St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London (which, to my utter disappointment, was closed). Managed to watch my favorite musical, Hairspray (I know, right!) before spending my last night here in Soho, getting to know a couple of Londoners in the process.
Day 22 (2nd Jan)
Final day in London. It was a long, long journey back to Singapore, with a 14-hour wait back in Attartuk International Airport (that’s in Istanbul) before finally touched down in Singapore on 3rd Jan. The end of a journey of a lifetime.
Full set of London blog posts here, full set of London photos here
As we need to return our car to the rental agency, we decided to spend the entire day before our flight home roaming around the alleyways of Fira.
A multitude of fellow admirers cannot diminishes the impact of Fira’s stupendous landscape. Views from the edge of caldera over the multicoloured cliffs are breathtaking, and at night the caldera edge is a frozen cascade of lights. The central square is Plateia Theotokopoulou. It’s a fairly crowded place (though of course not so during the winter when we visited); the main road, 25 Martiou, intersects the square as part of a one-way system that just manages to keep the traffic flow going. Between 25 Martiou and the caldera is the essence of Fira, a network of pedestrianised alleyways.
The dawn of our last day in Santorini was rather overcast, with little hope of sunshine. We were a little downhearted, but determined to enjoy the day nonetheless.
As we venture pass shop after closed shops, we came across a group of donkeys! Laden with goods, they were making their way up the steep alleyway of Fira. We were a bit curious as on how they would know their way, since there was no visible person guiding them, and decided to follow where the donkeys go. The donkey station was located nearby the cable car station, where there is a pathway (Marinatou) leading down to the old port of Fira Skala. It was quite a funny adventure, actually, to follow the donkeys!
Marinatou, the steep, cobbled pathway leading from Fira town edge down to the old port Fira Skala, was quite a difficult descend. It took us close to an hour walking down. Halfway through to the descent, my knees started to shake from the impact of climbing down the stairs.
Oh, let me introduce you to Raki. We met him halfway during our exploration around Fira. At first we thought he was a rather fierce dog, but soon he started to follow wherever we go. He also responded to my calls, and seem to understand what I was telling him. I know it made no sense, as it all probability, the dog would only understand Greek and it was probably own by someone since he was wearing a collar. But he followed us, we enjoyed his company, and decided to name him after the infamous Turkish vodka, Raki.
Raki walked with us all the way down to Fira Skala. During our hour-long journey going down the stairs, he always keep ahead of us, like some sort of advanced bodyguard cum scout. When he went too far ahead, hiding in some bushes or something, I will call out to him, and he will come tottering to me. At the port, when I lied down by the waterside to rest, he tried to lick my face but I pushed him away. Not giving up, he decided to sit next to me and push his entire body next to mine. Ah, the joy of having a lovely dog like that. Did I mention that Raki was blind in one eye? You can see that from the photo above.
Soon it was time to board the cable car up the cliff back to Fira. There was no way we will climb up the steep pathway again. It was also then we had to bid a fond farewell to our new-found-friend Raki at Fira Skala. I felt bad leading him down all the way here only to abandon him for cable car. The ride up took mere minutes, and cost EUR4 per person. As you ascend up, one canâ€™t help to admire (or gasp, if you are height-phobic like yours truly) how dramatic the caldera cliff is.
When 4 p.m. came around, I finally understood why Santorini is famous for its sunsets. The sight over the cliff looking out to the volcano with the setting orb was truly breath taking. We took a great many photos of this phenomenon (which you can view here on Flickr). We got a pretty good unobstructed spot to take photos near the cable car station. Stayed there for about an hour, in the process which four more dogs joined us. I really, really like the (stray) dogs of Santorini. I think during winter times they were starved of human attention they used to enjoy during summer, hence whenever they see someone like us, they will come over and be friendly.
By 5 p.m. the sun was covered with large clouds, and it was unlikely that we will see it sinking into the sea horizon. But nevertheless we were happy just to be able to catch one sunset, especially on our last day here. This is even better than the sunset I witnessed at Phuket.
We decided to head back towards main town square of Fira to catch a bite before taking the hotel transfer to airport. Out of sheer luck we spotted Tavern Noussa, and it was open! This eatery was highly recommended by Lipingâ€™s friend, and we decided to have our last meal in Santorini here, which turned out to be a good choice. The fish soup was absolutely delicious, and my grilled chicken was tasty despite being a tad dry. The friendly chef even came over to talk to us a few times, and offered some complimentary and absolutely delicious dessert which we struggled to finish because we were so full!
So we dined and wined and laughed and generally had a good time. The owner told us to tell everyone that Tavern Noussa is open all year round, and ask everyone to come here for dinner.
Soon we were back to the hotel and the friendly owner sent us to the airport. The whole place was dead. We were told to hang around first while waiting for the luggage xray machine was turned on, for the check in counter to be operatingâ€¦ this got to be the most relaxed airport I am in ever.
Right now I am sitting waiting for the security control to open their gate for departure. The flight was effectively delayed by 1.5 hour, and we were not supposed to complain. Liping has worked out all the routes to get to Athens Backpackers, our accommodation for the next 5 days, when we get to the airport. Wish me luck!
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 didnâ€™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, youâ€™ll have more fun that way.
First off we went recce around Fira, since most likely weâ€™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.
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.
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 winterâ€¦
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.
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.
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.
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 couldnâ€™t identify where we were at times, but we just know the places were beautiful.
Our first stop was the Argyroâ€™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.
We came across a sign pointing towards Pyrgos, and so that was our next stop. This wasnâ€™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 â€“ can you imagine how strong the wind was? We couldnâ€™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.
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.
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 â€œBay of Ammoudiâ€. 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).
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?
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 â€œIf you are open, we are openâ€.
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 â€“ dining table, sleeping beds, sofaâ€¦
There is a description of how Atlantis Books was stated on their website, so I wonâ€™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!
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.
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 couldnâ€™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.
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.
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.
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.
All in all, my eight day in Istanbul (and supposedly my first day in Santorini) was the worst day in my entire 22-days trip. That’s because Olympic Airlines had major screw ups with all my flights. Case in point:
The flight from Istanbul to Athens was severely delayed. For some reasons, after cruising the runway for an hour (I didn’t realise, I was asleep), the plane had to go back to terminal to refuel. That resulted in a two-hour delay in our flight
By the time we reached Athens, obviously we have missed the flight to Santorini on Aegean Airlines. Major bummer. But we held our chins up and checked for flights to Santorini
Turned out that Olympic Airlines had the next earliest available flight to Santorini on the same day at 8.15 p.m. So Liping and I forked out an additional EUR100+ to get additional tickets
But for some fucked-up reason, even this flight was majorly delayed. By the time we eventually got up the plane to Santorini, it was already 10 p.m. plus at night.
So what did we do to make the whole situation less distressing? Well, if you are as optimistic as me, you’ll find joy in the smallest way:
Liping and I had a haircut. Right here at Athens Airport while we wait for our evening flight to Santorini. The damn place looked so stylish that we gave in to the temptation… over a coin toss. LOL. Mine cost me EUR35 and it wasn’t that nice (I think some of my cuts at QB House were better) but a novel experience nonetheless, especially when your hairdresser needed to ask you to speak in English slower
Find joy in the entire flight delay situation. We gotta be the smallest group onboard an airplane, ever. Less than 20 of us in total, including a baby. LOL. When we boarded the train, a very disgruntled stewardess was standing along the aisle with a pissed-off look on her face, arms crossed over her half-buttoned chest. Liping was right when she commented that the stewardess looked more like a porn star than a stewardess.
True to the Greek-spirit, the moment we settled down in our seats, the flight took off in less than five minutes and we reached Santorini in a record-time of 40 minutes.
There was only one baggage claim conveyor in the airport. The entire airport setup was almost a joke. There was no passport control to speak of, and visitors can actually walked into the arrival hall to greet their friends. Even Phuket Airport was more established than that!
So we were off to our hotel guided by our poor host, Lefteris from Hotel Antonia. He must have been waiting for us on and off the entire day. I felt so sorry for him… and yet he was so friendly and helpful, we felt totally undeserved of his hospitality.
I was totally impressed by Hotel Antonia (check out the hotel review here) was a God-sent. Absolutely heavenly. Let me tell you why:
The owner came to the airport to pick us up! I felt so bad to keep changing the pick up time due to the flight delays, but he never complained
The room was superb. Heater, private bathroom, wardrobe, fresh towel everyday… even our very own balcony!
The family who runs the place was very friendly, and speaks English very well… and coffee every morning!
This hotel in Fira, while not located right next to the Caldera, was a mere 5 minutes walk to the town centre.
Best of all, it was EUR28 per night for the two of us. I guess in summer the price will be higher, but at the winter time we were visiting, we are not complaining. Absolutely recommended. If you going Santorini, stay here.
When we are done choosing our bed (idiot Liping went for the double bed, and I went for more bathroom space), it was already 11.30 p.m. when we headed out to check out the nightlife in Fira. To be honest, it was way quieter than I thought it will be, but considering the winter months, I reckon tourists were really scarce.
That’s why when we visited the pub Kita Thira, and then Town Club, we are easily the only foreigners around. The crowd was decidedly local in a good way, but we must have been so Asian that no one really talked to us. Perhaps it was too late in the night for a dose of Greek hospitality.
Modern Greek music and mainstream are just right for the charmingly kitsch landscape of the upbeat Town Club. During our stay this is one of the VERY few places open in Fira (afterall, it’s winter), so we were lucky the place was pretty happening on a Wednesday night. The crowd seems to know each other, mainly youths in their late teens and early 20s, and they are absolutely friendly. After some minor hiccup and shy stares, one guy came up to me, ascertained that I speak English, and asked me to dance with them… of which I did.
Fun night indeed. Thanks, Christy, for your hospitality!