europe · travel

I Dream of Santorini

Pretty cliff-side houses in Oia

Santorini is much like the pretty gal that every other girl would love to hate. You know, the one who gets out of bed looking every inch exquisite, the one who exudes charm without even trying, the type who you would compliment all day and would just shrug it all off, as if gorgeousness was something you got for free with your kiddie snack.

I still get over how the steep cliffs look snow-capped from the whitewashed houses.
Snow? Nuh-uh. Whitewashed houses blanket the peaks of the Caldera’s steep cliffs.

Yes, it seems this island is blessed — with its amazing vantage points overlooking the sea, its picturesque artisan town of Oia, a muti-faceted terrain which allows one to comb through vineyards at one hour, climb a volcano the next, all before having a pick of whether to lounge the day away at a black, red or white beach.

Freedom at Perissa Beach
Freedom at Perissa Beach

The mention of Santorini itself evokes images of lovers holding hands while the sights ooze of romance; however, Santorini can be a place too for a gang of friends or backpackers, as what Sheng, Mara and I would discover on the next leg of our Cycladic island-hopping. We docked off at the new Athinios Port and was greeted by throngs of villa-owners vying for your love and your promise to stay with them.

We arranged a ride going to Villa Popi, our digs-to-be in Fira, smack right in the middle of action in Santorini. Lovebirds may opt to stay in the more romantic cliff-side resorts in Oia, but the hostels (or more like villas) are perfectly fine for the cost-conscious. Easy access to the town market, Old Port and the central bus stations are an added plus; pretty much everything is a walking distance from where we stayed.

Morning Rush at the town of Fira, Santorini
Morning Rush at the town of Fira

You’ve got to love Santorini’s bus system — with Fira as the homebase, the buses made it so easy to cover the island from point-to-point. I especially loved the bus stop that’s only a few steps away from the sunbeds of Perissa beach!

On our first night, we hopped on a bus to Oia. Time was coming dangerously close to 6:30, and I was desperate to catch the famous Oia sunset. Sheng and Mara wanted to browse first through the artisan shops, so in haste I told them I’ll be back in five minutes, before rushing off in search of a better viewpoint.

Trying to navigate the streets of Oia

I never did make it back in five minutes. Little did I know that navigating the mostly-pedestrian town of Oia would be like “taking a stroll” in Venice, i.e. ‘Thy shalt get lost.’ Its streets snaked left and right, even up and down, as flights of steps would trace along the face of the bluff. In a few minutes, my inner GPS was rendered useless.

More handicrafts

I would have been so worried to be separated from our group, if I weren’t so distracted by the stunning view of the sparkling cliff-side resort pools, or by the twinkling trinkets inside the boutiques that lined the streets. Over the next two hours, I was less concerned about being lost, and more engrossed with perusing every gallery, sampling the treats from the quaint cafes and bakeries, combing the handicraft stores for the perfect keepsake. Bewitched would be an apt word to describe my state.

If you stumble across this bookstore in Oia, it's definitely worth checking out. You can feel the love of books in the air just by stepping into the cozy shop.
If you stumble across this bookstore in Oia, it’s definitely worth checking out. You can feel the love of books in the air just by stepping into the cozy shop.
A tiny piece of the Greek islands to take with you
A tiny piece of the Greek islands to take with you

We did regroup back in our hostel, with me grinning shamelessly from ear to ear. On the next day, we got up early and took a cable car down to Old Port to have us some one-on-one time with the force that shaped Santorini: the Nea Kamani volcano. I was giddy, as I’ve never hiked up an active volcano before. As I looked around though at the grimaces around me, I might have one of the very few who was actually looking forward to the sweaty trek up the craters.

Mara getting a feel of Nea Kameni's sulfur vents
Mara getting a feel of Nea Kameni’s sulfur vents

Strolling around the craters of Nea Kameni

Thankfully, before we fully sizzled in the sun, we were taken by our boat to cool off by the Palea Kameni beach. We gladly cannonballed into the aquamarine deep. I was impressed by our tour crew’s ability to maneuver and round up what could have been our rowdy group of 40-60 (?) tourists. I couldn’t take note of their name (as they were in Cyrillic), but they’re easy to spot along the banks of the Old Port.

Going with the current at Palea Kameni

Since Sheng and Mara were such nice sports to indulge me with our scalding hike, I think it was just fair for me to cave in to something they had had their hearts on from the start — the donkey ride from Old Port back up to Fira.

Donkey ride up to Fira

I must say it was definitely an experience; I must have been laughing nonstop from the first step until we were dropped off. It struck me how intelligent the mules were, as the caretakers won’t actually come along for the trek up. The donkeys were left to their own devices as they negotiated their way up the stairs. It was a bit of a heart-stopper though, every time my ride would stick just a wee too close to the cliff edge, or each time it felt competitive and raced with his fellow mule up a bend (kings of the road, eh?). My heart went out to the people who chose to take on the donkey trail on foot, though. I tell you, these donkeys don’t care a bit, they’ll ram you to the sides if you’re in the way.

Despite our sides splitting from laughter, we made it back to town in one piece. We originally planned to whisk ourselves off to the ruins of Akrotiri, but due to the Greek-nymphs-of-bus-schedules, we ended up hopping on the ride to Perissa beach. Needless to say, more wading in crystal-clear water ensued.

If cats were the darlings of Mykonos and Paros, dogs certainly ruled here.
If cats were the darlings of Mykonos and Paros, dogs certainly ruled here in Oia.

We capped off our last night with another visit to Oia. I should have mentioned that my half-witted rushing-off-into-the-sunset drama the night before was futile; I didn’t manage to catch the sun before it called it a day. I decided to give it another shot, but not before setting up a clear plan for meeting up again after with Sheng and Mara. I went off for another search of the perfect vantage spot and thankfully I found it in time. The stairs and ledges at this side of Oia were dotted with kindred spirits, all awaiting to witness what is said to be one of the world’s most breathtaking sunsets. And once I saw it for myself, I understood what the fuss was all about:

Sunset at Oia

It was nothing but sea from miles on out, and the streaks of orange and purple in the sky were poetry as they kissed the white sails in the sea and the snowy abodes by the cliff. As the horizon tucked the sun away, I heard the sound of applause coming from everywhere. It was the first time I heard people clapping after watching the sunset, and it was heartwarming; perhaps we should do that more. It was the perfect way to remember undeniably dreamy Santorini.

Yup, the sunset is definitely a blockbuster in these parts.
Yup, the sunset is definitely a blockbuster in these parts.

More pics over here: 2012-09 Santorini – Picasa Album

Casualty Assessment:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.