Hello Goodbye: Santorini


Wednesday 23rd September
The next morning I had the headache I thoroughly deserved from the two tequilas. I took every minute I could to extend my time in bed and Kirstie kindly had the first shower. A shower revived me slightly and after we were packed made our way to breakfast. We caught the bus to the new port however the ferry was running late and we ended up waiting around for around 30 minutes.

Kirstie and I were sat at a table with Steve, Nik and Anna. I spent most of the journey trying to close my eyes without success, watching a documentary with no volume and Greek subtitles on shark attacks and a very brief trip to the upper deck to photograph Naxos an Island with some archaeological remains including what appeared to be a big arch to an old temple. Despite the fact we had left Mykonos late we flew through the ocean and arrived in Santorini on time.

It was lovely and sunny and we were given some free time to get a late lunch. Kyriaki led us up the hill to the small square and a group of us ordered a Gyros from a stand for a bargain price of €2.30. We returned back to the hotel where we had some more free time to enjoy the pool. Kirstie and I were there first but were soon joined by quite a few others including Josh, Mel, Kim, Anna and Nik. The water was quite cold but refreshing and eventually they opened the bar for us.

After having a quick shower, we all re-grouped and Kyriaki took us on an orientation walk around Fira the main settlement on Thira. Our first stop was a viewpoint that looked over the old port and towards the Caldera one of the main volcanoes. The view was particularly stunning and she took the time to tell us about the geology of the island and how it was created by various volcanic eruptions and earthquake.

We continued on and entered one of the large Greek Orthodox churches which was quite pretty on the inside. Kyriaki explained how all Greeks are named after saints and they receive small gifts on their saints day, comparing it to a second birthday. She then went on to explain the difference between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic and the historical reason for the split in which also caused the split between the East and West Roman Empires.

Next we boarded a bus where we went on a winery tour. The Venetsanos winery was apparently the first industrial winery in Santorini when it opened in 1949. The entrepreneur behind it had developed a cost effective clever method to get the grapes from the high ground to the harbour as wine by using chutes. For reasons I didn’t quite understand the winery had closed 2 years after opening and only reopened a few months ago.

After the tour we had the opportunity to try some samples. Apparently the wine was famous world wide when it was first developed and I believe the original recipes and methods are still used. I particularly liked the dessert wine, found the whites alright and forced the red down. The sun was just setting as we left but it was in the wrong direction to fully appreciate it.

We continued on to a traditional looking village called Megalochori where again we had a short walk before making our way to a restaurant called Feggera. I was feeling quite tired so initially I didn’t order any wine however this appeared to offend the waiter who said “May I ask sir, with all these lovely wines you aren’t ordering one?”. I ended up ordering one, hoping to feel better after the first sip but instead it went down as well as I expected so I gave half my glass to Kirstie.

We returned back to our hotel in Fira and as I was still feeling tired I went straight back to the hotel room and was probably asleep by 22.30.

Thursday 24th September
I felt slightly more refreshed by the time I woke up the following morning. Kirstie and I had signed up with a few others in the group to do a morning tour of the island with the largest volcano. We and those with us had also all decided to hire quad bikes for the afternoon so we had to go there first to pay in order for us to collect them

We boarded the boat and made our way out of the harbour towards the island and some nearby hot springs which were to be our first stop. The hot springs are a reminder that the volcano is only dormant and not extinct and the water was red because of the high levels of sulphor

Eventually we stopped and people started jumping off the side. I had brought my go pro along so lined up next to Kirstie. I had jumped off the boat in Portugal but for some reason I felt slightly nervous on this occasion not helped by some false jumps because people swam under our path just as we were about to do it. The water was cold and quite salty and we made our way to the hot springs.

I was mostly towards the back with Nik and Anna and we slowly made our way through the shallow water where it was easy to walk than swim in some parts. On the way back we tried to get a group picture and then, Josh, Aaron and I smeared some of the mud on our faces. The water had been so salty I’d initially found it difficult to swim deep enough to grab a handful because I kept bobbing back up.

We returned to the boat and continued our journey to the volcano. I saw a small looking hill with the Greek flag and naively believed it to be the summit, which I admit was very naive considering the eruption of the volcano was partly responsible for creating what is now Santorini. It was only when we reached a path to the hill that we saw the summit of the main crater. Apparently 1.6 million people visit Santorini every summer and even though we were visiting outside of the main season the island still felt full of tour groups.

We climbed to the upper crater and once we were there our guide provided with some fairly interesting historical and geological facts and myths. This included the belief that the famous City of Atlantis In Plato’s ‘Republic’ was destroyed by a tsunami caused by the eruption in Santorini. The view was faultless with perfect blue skies and one land mass that resembled the head of a crocodile however after a few minutes at the top we had to return back to the boat.

We returned back to Fira where we had gyro’s from the same place as the day before. Daina, Shanell, Nick, Kim, Kirstie and I agreed after filling up with petrol to meet at the hotel and to leave as a group. On our way we saw Fallon and Jayde who decided to join us and as they’d already spent a morning on the roads agreed to lead the way in our search for Red Rock Beach. Kirstie was our driver and as it felt like we were speeding along my baseball cap caught by a gust of wind lifted off my head and disappeared before I realised what had happened.

As we approached a junction we saw Nik and Anna by the side of road and a discarded quad bike. They explained that Mel’s had broken down at the bottom of a steep hill but because it was a one way road Sarah hadn’t been able to drive down to give her a lift up. Instead Sarah had to walk down to find Mel and at one point we were notified by some passers by in a car that they weren’t far away. The rest of us also waited with Nik and Anna and it showed how tight-knit the group had become in a short space of time

Eventually we were all together and ready to continue our adventure. We saw a sign for Red Beach and then shortly after when we saw Caldera beach we turned in. It was a steep path down and when we got to the bottom the sand was not red nor could I see why it had the name. Anna and I checked in the small cafe and we were actually on the opposite side of a narrow section of the island to where we wanted to be. Kirstie is used to driving dirt bikes back home so had no trouble getting up the hill but was trying to put the fear of God in to me by thrashing the Quad from side to side to keep up the momentum.

We led our convoy the rest of the way to Red beach before we climbed over some rocks to an observation point looking over the beach below. I hadn’t seen any pictures so whilst I had obviously expected a red tinted cliff but not something quite so vibrant and stunning. We went for a swim in the water which wasn’t quite as nice as I expected because the red ‘sandy’ beach was actually formed of pebbles and there were loads of tiny bits of seaweed in the water which meant I was covered when I got back out.

After leaving the red beach we went our seperate ways with some heading back to the hotel whilst Kim, Nick, Kirstie and I drove to black beach which we found without to much difficulty. The water was much clearer nicer but the beach was still formed of small volcanic pebbles and the cliff wasn’t as specactular as at red beach however the area we went to was a pleasant setting.

We didn’t stay to long because we wanted to see the sunset at Oia and hadn’t allowed to much room for error and to get there because it was pretty much the opposite side of the island. The distance wasn’t far (though it looked it on the map) and whilst it felt like we were doing 100mph in reality we were doing well probably doing a max of 15. As we stormed along we thought we were taking a shortcut across the island because the map wasn’t overly clear and because the signs were in Greek.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a short cut. We went higher and higher, obtaining some lovely views of the island but after around 10 minutes which we couldn’t really afford to lose we could go no higher and worse, the road was a dead end. We had arrived at the highest point of the island which in any other circumstance would have been a moment to enjoy. This however was not that moment, and we really were now in a race against time to be back.

We raced back down and followed the signs to Fira and then to Oia however again we had bad luck because it turned out their were two routes to Oia through Fira and the one we took was longer. It was evident as we approached the outskirts of Oia that the sun was beginning to set and so when we had a clear, unobstructed view we found a fairly secluded spot to enjoy it. It may not have been the postcard picture across Oia which is so famous but it was still very pretty to witness.

After the sun had disappeared we continued to Oia however it was incredibly busy and in hindsight we should probably have arrived at the main viewing area an hour or even earlier beforehand. By the time we arrived back in Fira it was dark but we found quad car hire store before walking back to the hotel and getting changed for our final meal with the rest of the group.

When we arrived at dinner we were all aware that Nik and Anna two members of the group were not present. At some point during the meal Kyriaki told us the news that they were about to arrive and Nik had proposed. From day one “The Doctors” had been easy going and we were all thrilled for them so needed little encouragement to clap and cheer loudly when they came through the door to join us.

After dinner we went to one final bar where I think I had what I considered the best pina colada ever and danced with Nik, Anna and others to celebrate their engagement which included a few moves inside a cage. Throughout the night members of the group slowly left, starting with those who had a midnight ferry to Kos later that evening. Eventually Kirstie and I returned to the hotel about 1am with Aaron, Daina and Lindsay and as we made our way home we all agreed to meet up in London.

Friday 25th September
With the tour sadly officially over we finally had a bit of a chance for a lie in except my pedometer still went off at 7.30am. We had arranged to meet some of the group that hadn’t already left for Kos for breakfast at 9.30am. Throughout the tour new people had joined us at different stages and as we said our goodbyes to those we had known since day one and those that we had only met a couple of days it seemed the majority of us had bonded surprisingly quickly.

Kirstie and I walked in to the main town towards the Cable car so we could catch it down to the old port. It hadn’t even occurred to us it might be busy but luckily it wasn’t that busy and we ended up being in the front carriage going down. At the bottom there wasn’t much to do and the markets weren’t overly exciting but our only reason for going had been to ride one of the donkeys back to the top.

The donkey i was on seemed to want to take the inside corner and took no prisoners as it sought to make its way to the top taking out unsuspecting tourists that tried to block its path to take photos. All I could do was apologise but ultimately it did what it wanted and I could do nothing. It seemed to want the lead at all costs and whenever it slowed down to let one of the others catch up it quickened the pace.

We wondered through town and I got myself a souvenir tshirt and as we walked past a pub heard a voice shout out which turned out to be Jamie. He told us that him and Josh were watching the rugby (league) match between Brisbane Broncho’s vs Sydney Roosters NRL game. Brisbane scored within the first minute and it was shaping up to be an exciting game though after 20 minutes the amount of AFL fans meant the landlord switched to the game between Hawthorne Hawkes and Fremantle.

We had to prepare to catch our ferry anyway so returned to hotel via a third consecutive gyros lunch. As we prepared to leave the hotel we said goodbye to Jamie and Josh for the third time in the day before we walked to bus station, and caught the bus to ferry with time to relax at the port. As we waited in the line an english guy behind us started up a conversation and I quickly realised he was a Luton Town fan. We both agreed that it would be nice if they joined Watford in the premier league so we could enjoy a proper top flight derby day again as it’s been nearly 10 years since we last played a meaningful competitve game due to how far they have fallen.

As our boat arrived the visitors arriving disembarked and the port became a flurry of commotion. “Tourist information over here” a frantic shout of “Shuttle bus, shuttle bus, leaving now”, one man holding a laminated sheet of cars quietly muttering “Rent a car, Rent a car here” and one guy resorting to “Come in, come in, just come in”. This repeated for a few minutes and such was the disorganised racket they attracted next to no one. Even those looking confused and possibly in need of help hurried by. We boarded the ferry and started our long journey back to Athens.


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