Tag Archives: Santorini

Weekly Photo Challenge: Arranged

Don’t worry they are Armless!

Having been recently chastised for posting picture only blogs I have resolved to only do so in future when there is a narrative attached:

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My Favourite Pictures of the Greek Islands – 24

My Personal Greek A to Ω – Y (Upsilon) is for Uποβρύχιος or Underwater (City of Atlantis)

Santorini, the Caldera

We travelled from Ios to Santorini by highspeed ferry, which is more expensive than a regular boat but gets where it is going twice as quickly.  I prefer the alternative but this wasn’t so bad and at least it was possible to go out on deck.  The approach to Santorini is truly spectacular and once the ferry has slipped through the ring of islands and into the blue caldera the hilltop towns of first Oia and then Thira come into view.  Some say that this is the exact spot of the mythical underwater ocean city of Atlantis and I like to think that somewhere down there in the inky blackness is Troy Tempest in his submarine Stingray searching for the elusive and mysterious Marina.

 

Across the water from Thira was a black island with rocks distorted in twisted agony just as the volcano left them when it erupted and spilled into the water in the throes of an explosive birth. The eruption that created the caldera was among the largest volcanic explosions in the history of the planet that measured six on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, which may not sound that impressive but is just about as big as you can get.  This would have been a fairly big bang and when it went off it would be sensible to be standing well back because it ejected an estimated sixty cubic kilometres of material as it blew the unfortunate island apart and destroyed the Minoan civilization both here and on the nearby island of Crete.

 

Santorini is an island of contrasts and it is a shame that the ferry doesn’t dock at Thira but carries on to a harbour a few kilometres south, which is an unfortunate mass of ugly concrete, tacky souvenir shops, bus stops and taxi ranks and doesn’t present the arriving visitor with the most pleasing aspect of the island.  We ignored the taxis and found the bus for Thira and it left quite quickly up a long snaking road that led up to the top of the cliffs and the road to the island capital.  It was a short trip through some of the less picturesque parts of the island and once there it deposited us in the bus station at the back of the town.  Surrounded by tourist shops selling cheap souvenirs this may not be the best part of Thira but it doesn’t take long to get there and in only five minutes we were at the picture postcard front of the town looking over the sea.  Everything there is impossibly bright, whitewashed buildings, giddy steps raking down to the sea and blue domed churches.  After a drink and a baklava in an expensive café with a great view we walked along the entire length of the cliff top admiring the sea on one side and the little buildings clinging to the rocks on the other.

A problem with Thira however is that because it is so popular it can be really overcrowded and busy.  Down in the bay there were six cruise ships all shuttling their guests to the town and filling the place to overflowing.  These days the average cruise ship weighs about one hundred and twenty thousand tonnes, is three hundred metres long and has almost four thousand passengers so that is about twenty thousand cruisers joining all of the regular holidaymakers and day trippers like us and easily outnumbering the indigenous population of twelve thousand and making the place fit to burst at the fragile seams.

 

As the little shuttle boats kept bringing people ashore and the overworked donkeys transported them up the raking steps  the crowds were at the peak of their numbers and the shops and cafés were all full to the brim so this seemed a good time to leave Thira and get the bus to the nearby town of Oia at the very north of the island.  The ride provided more contrast as the road followed a high mountain to the left and a flat fertile plain many metres below.  The road clings to the top of the mountain and provides splendid views but you really have to hope that the bus has had its brakes regularly maintained!

Oia is even more picturesque than Thira but fortunately not nearly so crowded and we walked along the top of the cliff, along narrow roads and down twisting footpaths, around churches, windmills and a castle and it was so much more leisurely and enjoyable than the capital.  The town has stricter rules on development and commerce and has managed to successfully protect itself from the excesses of tourism.  It was now extremely hot and as the sun blazed and the rays bounced around the whitewashed streets and houses it made us think of mythos and shade so we found a taverna in a back street and enjoyed a meal at about half of the prices in Thira.

 

Oia is famous for its sunsets and about an hour before the appointed time, coaches, buses and cars flood into the little town and brings hundreds of people in to see the spectacle.  They take up position all along the little streets and the place becomes overcrowded and far too busy so I was glad that we were going in the opposite direction and back to Thira which by now was much quieter as all of the cruise ships had started to leave.  Quite by chance we had timed our visit to perfection and here is my visiting Santorini tip; go first to Oia because while Thira boils over with visitors during the day it is empty in Oia and when this town starts to fill up for the sunset go back to Thira which calms down nicely at about this time when the cruisers all leave.  You can see the sunset in Thira just as well as Oia and let’s be honest, it is exactly the same sunset anyway!

 

We sat for a while on a roof top terrace with a good view of the caldera, the town and the mule trains with their grumpy drovers transporting tourists back and forth down a precariously dangerous twisting track consisting of five hundred and eighty numbered steps to the harbour below and back to their ships.  The terrace had a good view over the harbour and we watched the cruise ships taking people away to exciting new destinations.

We watched the electric red sunset but had to leave in a bit of a rush to get back to the bus station and take our transport back to the port.  Not quite as elegant a departure as the cruisers I have to confess but it was efficient and we returned to the harbour in good time for our return high-speed ferry back to Ios.  This is a great island but a fourth visit to Santorini will probably be my last for a while so I watched it slip away behind the ferry as we left with no urgent plans to return.

My Favourite Pictures of the Greek Islands – 17

Santorini

On the island of Santorini Oia is even more picturesque than Thira but fortunately not nearly so crowded and we walked along the top of the cliff, along narrow roads and down twisting footpaths, around churches, windmills and a castle and it was so much more leisurely and enjoyable than the capital. The town has stricter rules on development and commerce and has managed to successfully protect itself from the excesses of tourism. It was now extremely hot and as the sun blazed and the rays bounced around the whitewashed streets and houses it made us think of mythos and shade so we found a taverna in a back street and enjoyed a meal at about half of the prices in Thira.

Oia is famous for its sunsets and about an hour before the appointed time, coaches, buses and cars flood into the little town and brings hundreds of people in to see the spectacle. They take up position all along the little streets and the place becomes overcrowded and far too busy so I was glad that we were going in the opposite direction and back to Thira which by now was much quieter as all of the cruise ships had started to leave. Quite by chance we had timed our visit to perfection and here is my visiting Santorini tip; go first to Oia because while Thira boils over with visitors during the day it is empty in Oia and when this town starts to fill up for the sunset go back to Thira which calms down nicely at about this time when the cruisers all leave. You can see the sunset in Thira just as well as Oia and let’s be honest, it is exactly the same sunset anyway!

 

My Personal Greek A to Ω – O (Omricom) is for Oύζο or Ouzo

Amorgos Taverna

I like Greece and I like Greek tavernas, they are almost always friendly inviting places and the food is inexpensive and good value and it rarely disappoints. I like the way that when you arrive and select a table you get invited into the kitchen to meet the chef, to carry out an inspection and to satisfy yourself about hygiene standards and then get to choose the food.  I like the carefree ambiance and the complete lack of formality, outside wooden tables and rattan chairs, check tablecloths, extensive menus and unhurried waiters. I like the cheap paper table covers so you can spill food and drink without worrying about disapproving looks or being presented with the laundry bill, I like the certain company of scrounging cats and I especially like those with live bouzouki players running through the familiar catalogue of traditional Greek music and always starting and finishing with the obligatory ‘Zorba’.

Greece has a culinary tradition dating back thousands of years and over the centuries Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences.  Greek food is best kept simple because too much refinement is generally considered to be against the spirit of Greek cooking and typical dishes include souvlaki, fried meatballs, squash balls, octopus, shrimp, squid, feta cheese, olives, stuffed vine leaves, tzatziki eggplant dip, small sausages and giant beans.  For the evening meal, Greek tavernas serve such specialties as moussaka made from lamb, eggplant and béchamel sauce, kebabs, pastitsio, a speciality of Corfu, that consists of lamb or goat meat with macaroni and tomatoes, stifado, braised beef with onions and paidakia, which is a delicious grilled lamb or goat chops.

My personal favourite is Kleftiko, which is a knuckle of lamb, cooked slowly and served with vegetables and rice.  In Greek, kleftiko means stolen meat and according to legend, this dish would be made with a lamb stolen from a flock as it grazed on a hillside. The thief would cook the meat over many hours in a hole in the ground, sealed with mud so that no steam could escape to give him away.  Nowadays, to recreate this, the lamb is sealed inside a paper package, which keeps the meat moist and traps its fragrant juices.

On the island of Ios in the Cyclades there is beach taverna, which serves possibly the best calamari in the whole of the Mediterranean.  The little place is delightful with a shaded terrace that overlooks the beach and the tiny bay and it is run by an old woman who probably should have retired years ago and it has a limited but interesting menu and with the sort of prices that I really like.   Going to the beach and the taverna is part of the Ios routine and everyday I can happily sit at the same table and have the same delicious calamari and dish of Greek salad.

Also on Ios in the Chora at the very top of the town next to a row of redundant windmills is a taverna called ‘The Mills’ with tables that sprawl untidily across the pavement and with table cloths flapping vigorously in a constant stiff wind that brings a slight chill to the evening air, so much so that local families who dine at the restaurant slip on warm woollen jumpers as a precaution.  This is completely unnecessary of course because the wind is simply refreshing and by no means cold enough for additional layers of clothing.  The nice thing about the Chora is that although it is a place for tourists it is also a real place where people live as well and go out together for dinner.  While parents and grandparents enjoy their food and wine the children, in their best clothes, play in a dried up flowerbed of red earth, chase the stray cats and generally have a very good time.

My favourite Greek taverna, however, without a shadow of a doubt was the ‘Boss Bar’ on the island of Santorini in 2004.  It was an untidy little place right on the beach at Perissa and on a fortnight’s holiday we dined there most evenings and when we felt obliged to try somewhere different, just for a change, we almost always wished that we hadn’t and went back there later for a final drink.  The ‘Boss Bar’ really had been an excellent place, the staff were attentive and friendly, the food was good, the beer was cold and the prices were reasonable.  It has taken me a while to get to the point of this story but there was always complimentary ouzo to finish the evening (except when there was complimentary melon which quite frankly wasn’t so good) but the place had my fullest recommendation.  On my fiftieth birthday a very substantial meal for nine cost only €85, I left a hundred, the owner refused such a generous tip, I insisted, and he completed our meal with at least €25 worth of complimentary sweets and drinks.

I returned to Santorini in 2006 but was devastated to find that it had gone, probably because the owner had been far too generous with the complimentary ouzo.

The Palace of Knossos and the Minotaur

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In 2001 I went to Crete with my son Jonathan and while we were there we visited the ancient site of the Palace of Knossos.  This is the largest archaeological site on the island and was the ceremonial and political center of the ancient Minoan civilization and culture who once lived there.

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Island Hopping 2006, Santorini – The Island of Atlantis

Santorini

We had a quiet day today.

Woke to more blue sky. This was becoming so predictable that I was in danger of my first job of the day becoming unnecessary. I worried that I might get a letter of redundancy.  I had a cup of tea and enjoyed an amusing incident when a Greek family set up for breakfast around the pool and the eldest son, of about ten, pushed the younger one, of about eight, in the water.  Did he howl!  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and his mother thought that it was really funny as well.

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Island Hopping 2006, Santorini, Oia and Thira

Oia Santorini Greece

I had a great nights sleep and woke early as usual. I carried out the early morning weather check and satisfied that the sun was shining already I made everyone a cup of tea and I then went to the village to buy some fruit for breakfast.

There was a mini-market with a good selection of  curiously shaped fruits. Although ugly they looked interesting and I bought plums, peaches, grapes and oranges none of which would have made it through fruit police quality control at Tesco. Having selected my breakfast purchases I encountered a problem. It is difficult to buy €5 euros worth of groceries with a €50 note so early in the morning. The till was already almost empty and after scratching around for my change it looking as though Dick Turpin had paid a visit and left his calling card!

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Island Hopping 2006, Fiftieth Birthday and the Boss Bar Santorini

Santorini

On arrival first impressions were disappointing. It was noisy and busy and I couldn’t find our transport.  The place was full of pushy, impatient taxi drivers who all wanted to take us to the town.  It was clear to me already that we are now on an island with an airport and the ambiance was quite different.

One driver even nearly convinced me that he was our lift but he wanted 10 euros so I knew that it wasn’t right.  Sally and Charlotte climbed aboard a taxi van full of beefy Australians and were disappointed when I eventually found our arranged transport and they had to pick up their packs and get off again. I think the beefy Australians were disappointed too!  Now that we had our lift things were looking up.

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Island Hopping 2006, Leaving Ios

Ios Greece Cyclades

I woke early and checked the weather.  It was good again so I slipped out without waking the others, which was difficult because the door locking mechanism was clunky and made a lot of noise and then I sat around the pool reading again.

There you go I had established a routine again in only two days.  Later when everyone was awake and I had taken food orders I slipped down to the harbour to a busy bakery to buy breakfast.  Croissants and donuts on the balcony and I had a beer to wash it down.  Then during the morning I had two more beers while Sally and Charlotte went to the pool and I sat in the sun with Bill Bryson.

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