Appearing in countless postcards and glossy editorials, Santorini lives up to the hype and manages to take away the breath of first-time visitors and returning travelers alike. The island provides an otherworldly spectacle, with cobalt-blue waters coming face-to-face with the caldera’s black sand, and whitewashed houses contrasting with the azure sky. It’s a charismatic piece of paradise on earth, epitomizing the hedonism associated with the Greek island life.
An enormous volcanic explosion more than three millenia ago authored this spectacular caldera, which is believed to have been a single island perched in the Aegean among countless others that form the Cyclades group of islands. Such cataclysmic event, legend says, helped in destroying a powerful ancient civilization; but it ironically paved the way for the creation of paradise. Santorini today draws people by the shiploads for its famed sunsets, and a slice of Greece slathered in sybaritic lifestyle.
Of course, such beauty comes at a price. Precariously hanging on the brink of overdevelopment, solitude is fast becoming a luxury in a place whose tourism is its lifeline. A regular on cruise routes and Mediterranean package tours, a sojourn in Santorini means you have to share the place with the crowds especially at the height of summer. That said, once you’ve done the obligatory classic route, it’s easy to step away from the frenzy and into more secluded sites, where authentic Greek culture is the norm rather than the exception.
The ship reached Santorini overnight from Turkey and getting to Fira proper was hell due to the long queues at the funicular from the port, which, as a matter of fact, doesn’t provide a nice first impression of the island. But all’s well as we managed to reached the top of the caldera after an hour. At the tourist information center, we quickly hired a private van and an English-speaking Albanian expatriate who whisked us off to Oia, a Greek Orthodox church and a restaurant with an astounding view of the Aegean Sea.
Alas, one day isn’t enough as we had to return to Fira lest we be left by the ship, which is bound next for the Ionian island of Corfu. The Albanian driver wanted to take us to some more off-the-beaten track sites but we really needed to return to the port so he obliged. After dropping us off at the main highway that converged to a narrow alleyway to Fira, we paid him for his troubles (plus tip) then returned to explore the city proper some more before returning to the port for the tender.
I stopped by at a Greek taverna, where I ordered some gyros for a very late lunch (it was past 3pm, so it wasn’t that late by Greek standards) before catching up with the group.
Darn. Just as I was getting warmed up for what used to be my favorite country until I became a Japanophile.