Oct 14 2007

Santorini: First Impressions

Published by at 7:20 am under Greece,Santorini

As Ben has pined for Knossos, ever since I saw a photograph of Santorini in all its white-washed glory, I have longed to visit the island. And so Santorini was the logical next stop on our Greek island-hopping adventure.

SantoriniThe island has not disappointed: Santorini is intense. It is, first and foremost, intensely beautiful. I sat here for about thirty minutes trying to write a paragraph describing the island’s beauty, but no words I can think of seem to do it justice, so I’m hoping our pictures speak for themselves.

Santorini’s history and geography are dramatic as well, for one major reason: it’s a VOLCANO. I was not aware of this fact until a few days before our arrival in Santorini when I started to read up on the island in our guidebook, which warned that we may be woken up at night by small tremors coming from the dormant — but not dead! — volcano on which Santorini lies. Needless to say, I was concerned. My concern escalated when I looked into the island’s past.

The island was inhabited around 3000 BC, after the once-active volcano became dormant. Around 1650 BC, a series of earthquakes and eruptions caused one of the biggest explosions in the history of our planet: 60 cubic kilometers of magma spewed into the atmosphere. The explosion sunk the entire center of the island, forming the (now fabulously beautiful) caldera, which was filled in by the sea. What was once a round island is now more like a crescent moon. (Side note: this explosion, which caused tsunamis as far away as Israel, is conjectured to have been the downfall of Crete’s Minoan civilizations.)

This is not the end of Santorini’s dramatic story. A brief highlight reel: a thousand years later, an explosion separated one end of the island. An islet popped up in the middle of the caldera thanks to volcanic activity soon after that. In 1570, the south coast collapsed. In 1707, an explosion created yet another islet. In 1956, an earthquake destroyed both major cities on Santorini.

And yet people keep coming back! It’s as if everyone here is either anxiously awaiting the next catastrophe or in complete denial. Our guidebook says the inhabitants are remarkable for their “resilience and insouciance.” I call them plum crazy.

Although I may not live here for fear of liquid hot magma engulfing my home, Santorini is a spectacularly beautiful place, and amazed me the moment I stepped off the boat.

arriving in SantoriniWe arrived in Santorini having taken a “superfast” ferry from Iraklio. Reduced ferry schedules in the off-season forced us to take the high-speed boat, despite the price, as the slow ferry didn’t leave Iraklio until next week. We did appreciate the twice-as-fast boat ride. We did not appreciate twice-as-much seasickness.

Upon arriving at any port in Greece, you will be confronted by domatia (room) owners holding signs and frantically yelling, trying to get you to rent from them. It’s a high-risk-high-reward game Ben and I have been playing: we could call ahead and make reservations, guaranteeing us room in the cheapest local hostels. However, waiting until we arrive and negotiating with the peddlers might result in a higher quality room for an even better price. We might also get scammed by someone who claims their rooms are “very close to town.” Or end up paying three times the hostel price.

In Santorini, we got lucky. We quickly met Stavros, a native Santorinian and domatia-hawker, and haggled him down to a mere 22 euros per night (the cheapest hostel here is 15 euros per person!) for a room in Fira, the island’s largest town. As much as I loved Billy Crystal, Jr., this room seems gecko-free and (miraculously) has wifi!

Other first impressions:

  • Santorini is expensive! Even grocery store prices here are jacked up compared to those in Hania.
  • Everyone here speaks English. All the tourists speak it (there are even Americans here!), every single Greek speaks it, and they laugh at us when we approach them and try to converse in Greek. Whereas in Crete it was nearly a necessity to speak a few Greek words, in Santorini it’s an anomaly for any tourist to attempt it.

OiaWe spent our first day in Santorini in the town of Oia, a ten-minute bus ride from Fira. Oia is the face of Santorini: when you see a picture of Santorini, it was taken in Oia (pronounced ee-ah). Oia perches on the edge of a black volcanic cliff that plunges into the caldera. We also decided to descend the cliff to visit Oia’s port, Ammoudi — a decision we regretted soon after we began climbing the 300 stairs back up the mountain. Today we plan to tour some of the island’s wineries – the black volcanic rock that covers the island apparently makes the soil fertile and ideal for grape growing!

NEXT: Searching for Santorini Vineyards »



2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Santorini: First Impressions”

  1. Alexon 14 Oct 2007 at 10:14 am

    I just checked out Santorini’s photos via slideshow, and they’re absolutely stunning. Boy, it’s hard not to get the “travel bug”when you’re reading about all of these fabulous places, and enjoying photos and videos, too. Just beautiful.

  2. rizon 09 Jul 2010 at 10:28 pm

    nice page!! saw all the pics.. wonderful!

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