11 August 2008

Breathtaking Beauty of Santorini

From our first glimpse of Santorini we knew all we had heard wasn't just hype. It is one of the most dramatically beautiful places I have ever seen in my life.

Formed by a volcano, Santorini was originally a much larger island. Approximately 3600 years ago the volcano located beneath the island had what many geologist agree was likely the largest volcanic eruption in the history of earth and formed the current archipelago of four island surrounding the caldura, essentially the cauldron of the still active volcano that is located beneath the sea. On Nea Kameni island you can still see some of the vents that allow the heat and sulphuric gas to escape.

Due to the sulphur fumes and the danger of lava flow, this island is obviously uninhabited.

In 1967 an archaeological site was discovered on the south end of the island. It was a Bronze Age city, likely Minoan, although more evidence is needed to determine that. It is thought that the eruption is what lead to the Legend of Atlantis. However, because no bodies have yet been found, such as were found at Pompeii in Italy, it is thought the people living there heeded the warnings of the earthquakes and abandoned the city before the eruption happened.

Unfortunately, the site was closed during our visit so we were unable to go to this important, and very active, dig. Excessively disappointing. Have I mentioned how much I love archaeological sites?

But we did get to see much of the remainder of the island!

We had signed on for an excursion that included Oia, a tasting at a local winery and Fira, the largest town on the island.

We started in Oia (Ia in Greek and pronounced E-ah), where I raced about as quickly as I could taking photos of the most picturesque village on the island. (We were the first tour bus to reach the village, so there weren't many people to muck up my photos. But I knew the tour buses would arrive. And so they did. When we left there were more than 30 full sized buses in the too small parking lot, which lead to the constant shuffle as buses came and went.

Oia is best known for the Cave Houses. Built into the cliff that forms the upper reaches of the volcanic cauldron, they are gloriously beautiful either from a distance...

...or close up.

Just as the other mobs of tourists caught up with us, it was time to move on. But I did manage one last shot of this cat...

...who seemed undisturbed by the now steady stream of people walking past its napping spot.

Although it was not yet noon, we next headed for a local winery. (It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?)

We actually weren't terribly impressed by the wine as it tasted rather thick and vinegar-y to us. In discussing it later with one of the sommeliers on the ship, he said that the weather is too warm and dry to grow grapes for good reds and whites, but that the Santorini dessert wines are quite nice.

However, I was impressed with how they grew the vines. Because there is a constant, strong wind on the island they cannot grow grapes how you would normally see it done. Instead, they weave the vines into a basket shape. The grapes grow into the middle of the basket and are therefore protected from the wind. Rather ingenious, actually.

We were also impressed at this shot of the road up the side of the caldura, which we could see clearly from the winery. Even more winding than in Switzerland!

And we were astounded by the many ships that had arrived after ours. By the early afternoon, six cruise ships were anchored there with thousands of disembarking passengers.

Our next stop was the town of Fira. We were supposed to go on a short walking tour with our group, but we decided it was time to ditch the group and head out on our own. I felt as if I walked past every single passenger from every one of those ships through the winding and tightly packed streets of the town!

To get back to the ship, you can choose the cable car, donkey ride or walking. Since the walkway was in full sunlight, not to mention covered with poo from the aforementioned donkeys, we went with the cable car.

With its plummeting ride down to the harbor.

Note: Cable Car photos courtesy of GLH. I sat with my eyes tightly closed and prayed not to die.

Later, as the ship departed for Delos, we caught this photograph of the sun setting over one of the volcanic vents.


MW said...

Lovely! I had a cave home vacation rental already picked out and I told my husband, "This is what I want for my birthday next year!" Can't wait to see it.

Expat Traveler said...

Oh wow - that looks incredible.. What beautiful colors too!