June 7th, 2014
Santorini is what one typically thinks about when you think of the Greek Isles. Beautiful island landscape, beautiful blue water, and those classically cute ‘Greek’ blue and white houses. We were really looking forward to touring Santorini.
We had lined up a shore excursion with an overview of the island, then a chance to explore the smaller town of Oia, before heading back to the main town of Fira, and our cruise ship.
We started our tour by bus to Prophet Elias Mountain, where we could get a 360 degree view of the island. Santorini has a unique landscape, surrounding a volcanic caldera - the crater left by a volcanic collapse. Around 1.600 BC, Santorini suffered a massive volcanic eruption and the resultant tidal wave wiped out the island’s civilization, later rumored to be the fabled Atlantis.
Next, we stopped by a winery and learned a bit about the unusual way that grapes are grown on Santorini. The vineyards do not have rows of grapes growing on wires or supports or arbors, as we are used to seeing. Here they let them grow low to the ground, forming the grape vines into a circle around the base of the plant. This creates a sort of ‘basket’ that helps collect water, and protects the vine from the harsh winds.
From there, it was a picturesque drive to the town of Oia, on the north end of the island.
Oia is the second largest town on Santorini, and, after an earthquake in 1956 destroyed the town, it was carefully rebuilt in the original fashion, with the typical white homes with blue accents and narrow walkways. It seemed a bit inauthentic, as there is a building code to mandate this, and, by the 1970’s, Oia had really become THE place where the wealthier people of Santorini wanted to live.
We had about 1 1/2 hours to explore Oia……not long enough to really do much more than stroll the streets and look in a few shops.
We did get to see those classic settings that have been in countless photos. Oia is the Aegean's most photographed village.
But, Oia was CROWDED! Those cute little narrow walkways were bumper to bumper with tourists just like us.
We did get a glimpse of those tucked away little homes, and did stick our heads into several really nifty shops….but overall, we would have been better off (in hindsight) just sitting at a café and sipping a coffee while people watching.
It s always hard to know what would be the best way to see a port town, when you arrive by cruise ship. Santorini, and especially Oia, would be awesome to experience over several days. I could picture staying in a small B & B and enjoying the amazing scenery, and the sunsets (which are said to be unforgettable) from the quite of our own personal balcony. But, alas, our time in Oia was up, and we loaded back up on the tour bus and were dropped back off in Fira, the main town, located just above the harbor.
Our experience in Fira was not much better than in Oia……crowds there, too, and so many little souvenir shops all selling the same things. We strolled through the main street area, just getting a feel for the town.
Fira sits right on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the harbor. When it was time to head back to our ship, we had a choice of how we might get down to the water. There was this pathway……with a whole lot of switch backs…….which you could walk……
Or ride a donkey…..but we had been warned about the donkeys – they smell! And it was said to take days of washing to get rid of the smell!
The other, more attractive alternative was an aerial tramway.
As we strolled down the main street in Fira, we were headed in the direction of the tram (knowing that the last tram left at 4:30pm and we had better not be late). What we did NOT expect was to run right into the line for the tramway….winding down and around for several blocks! We just sort of fell into line…..and waited……We did finally make it down to the harbor and back on our ship, with time to spare.
All in all, Santorini was a bit of a disappointment. Too much hype…and therefore, way too many people. This is, sometimes, the drawback to cruising…….the up side – we settled into our nice, cool room for a rest, then enjoyed the spectacular ‘sail away’ as we sailed all around the island. Later, we had a wonderful dinner cruise ship style. : )