Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 6 - Santorini (written by Jenny)

Our last full day in Santorini: We returned the moto in the morning, so had to find some other ways to pass our time. I was all for sitting by the pool, maybe taking a little walk and eating at the restaurant just down the street. Well, we did that for a while but decided that we wanted to take one of the boat tours in the late afternoon. In the middle of the Santorini bay there are a few smaller islands. The largest is the volcano, and between it and the smaller one next to it, we heard there are hot springs in which folks can swim. We had to check that out. Our hotel hostess had a line on the cruise that included dinner and a lovely view of the sunset, so we pulled out the credit card one more time.

Of course we slept in, and then I meandered down to the little dining area, a building just next to the hotel, for breakfast. A typical dessert or breakfast in Greece is yogurt with honey and fruit or nuts. On Santorini they have the best yogurt I have ever had. It’s not sour, and it is very thick and creamy, creamier and smoother than the Greek yogurt we have in the States. It is delicioso! So while most of the breakfast consists of baloney, processed cheese and bread (which I try to avoid for health reasons), I love the yogurt and honey they would give me at the hotel. I had it each morning and for most of the meals in restaurants, too. One place had fresh bananas, nectarines and walnuts. I think I found my new daily breakfast! Now, if I can just find this perfect yogurt in the States.

After breakfast, Andy and I caught up on our internet: email, facebooking, posting pictures, etc. This took us a couple of hours. Andy also had some prep work for his fall class. Since he was committed to his work, I headed down to the pool. I dipped my toe in the water and decided it was too cold. I’m a wimp that way. Then, I just found a lounge chair next to an umbrella. It was a bit of heaven, except for the wind (and a couple of loud folks cavorting nearby). At least I figured that some sun might help me smooth out some weird tan lines I’d gotten yesterday. I spent the morning enjoying that peace. Poor Andy only got maybe 15 minutes by the pool after his work was done before we had to get ready for the cruise.

We knew we’d have to get lunch, so we set off for the trusty café down the street. Afterward, it was time to pack and get ready for our shuttle to the pier – again, our shuttle was our hostess’ father, but this time we took a larger bus with some other folks. Then we stopped at another hotel (the Mathios) where we were assured that another shuttle would pick us up. We presumed it would be a shuttle from the tour; we’ve seen that before, where the tour sends around a bus to different hotels to pick up passengers. Well, we presumed wrong. This shuttle was the hotel owner and his little red car. OK, no problem, as long as we get to the pier. Which we did, eventually.

Remember the zig zag road up from the pier I told you about, the one with all the switchbacks? Well, we had to take that road down, and this time it was packed with cars and buses: rush hour at the pier! I guess a large ferry had just dropped off a load of passengers and cars because there’s no way that many cars and buses would squeezing past each other for any other reason. We were mesmerized as we watched buses maneuver the sharp turns. The switchbacks were so sharp that the buses would have to swing out into the right lane to get the widest radius possible. Cars coming the other way would try to fit around the bus on the inside (and on the outside, near the edge) any way they could. It was a madhouse. Andy, of course, was sure that we’d be late. Luckily our boat had not yet arrived.

The people sharing our ride were an older Italian couple, neither of whom could speak English. We could tell from our tickets, though, that we all were sharing the same cruise. So, we stuck together to ask the police on the pier about our boat, the “Afroditi,” since we didn’t see it. The cop assured us that we were in the right place. Sure enough, our boat arrived just 10 minutes later. It was a lovely ship, with lots of sails; it reminded me of a pirate ship. The Afroditi was certainly much nicer than the ferry that brought us here two days ago.

We found spots on the upper deck where the sun was shining and the wind would keep us cool. We picked more folks up from the next port, Fira, which gave us a chance to see that part of the town we didn’t see the day before, including the cable cars that take people up and down the cliff. We recalled the other option in which tourists walk or ride donkeys up the switchback road – no cars on this one. The port is obviously not for cargo any more, just for tourists. It was nice to see the port from this vantage point.

Our next stop, just 15 minutes later, was the volcano island Nea Kameni. Here we got to pay two Euros a piece to hike up the volcano. Yeah, I know. But it is now a geological park, so we didn’t mind the extra fee. We were happy to pay to trudge up that hill. The hike actually wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. All the walking we’ve done over the last two weeks must have built up our muscles. On the way up, though, I tripped on a rock and skinned my knee. The injury was minor, but it sure did sting. The day was hot, but the view of all those volcanic rocks and craters was worth the exertion, especially when we reached the summit. We hung around for about a half hour and then began the slow descent, enjoyed the changing view as we walked.

Then we sailed to the hot springs. Since there was no beach, we would be swimming from the ship to the warm orange water. There was a ladder on the side of the boat, but Andy, ever the adventurer, decided to leap off the upper deck. Naturally he was the first one in the water. As I was asking the tour-guide where the ladder was, she said “It’s right on the side there. I think someone is about to use it.” That’s when Andy dove in. She added, “Well, he obviously didn’t need it.” Yeah, that’s my husband. I thought about jumping in, but I really wasn’t in that sort of adventurous mood. The latter would do nicely. The swim out to the springs was a bit rough for me; I’ve never had stamina for swimming. Andy made it there with little effort. At last, once I arrived, I felt that warm water. It made me feel so good. It was like bath water. The only problem: I was sure we’d turn orange from the sulfur. All the rocks were orange; people had even written their names them in orange residue.

We bobbed and swam for a little while and then turned back when our guides sounded the alarm. The whole visit was less than a half hour - probably too short a time for most of us. We swam back against the tide, which was even a bit harder for me. I felt relieved to climb that ladder; one guy was so tired that he had to be helped back to the boat. I was bushed so I went straight upstairs to rest. Andy stayed behind for a couple more dives. My sweet daredevil.

We sailed over to the bay of another island, Palaia Kameni, one that used to be a part of the Santorini ring before the volcano blew it up. Our guides explained that this was a more traditional island. We couldn’t tell much, because they didn’t let us off the boat. We stayed in the harbor to have our dinner, which was... OK. The food on these boats are not really worth mentioning. But we got our fill and relaxed while the boat floated around for a while. Some reviews say that this part lasts too long, that tourists should have more time on the volcano and in the springs. I can see where that could be true. We did kinda move around in circles for a long time before heading out to our last stop.

This stop was dedicated to our opportunity to watch the sunset under the village of Ia. It was probably was the nicest part of the cruise, just admiring the view up the hill to that lovely city and seeing things down by the water that we couldn’t see from way up on the cliff yesterday. There was another switchback road and a small port, which was pretty. We savored the evening, watching the haze on the horizon blur with the colors of the sunset. There was another ship, closer to the horizon, casting a silhouette against the darkening sky. It was all very romantic and peaceful. We enjoyed the calm… before a bit of a storm.

When we arrived back at the dock, we expected to see the man from the Mathios hotel in his little red car. There was no sign of him. For a few minutes we were unsure what to do. Then we saw the couple that had shared our tour talking with a man at another shuttle. When we saw the couple happily get into the shuttle, we walked up to the man and explained where we were going. He assured us, no, this was not our shuttle. But we came in with the other couple, we were tired, and we were adamant (especially since we had no other options). Finally, our Italian friend spoke up for us - in Italian - and then driver relented. He was, after all, heading for Akrotiri. Yes! Akrotiri was the part of the Island our hotel was on. Whew! We didn’t know where we’d end up but we knew we wouldn’t be stranded at the port.

Our plan was to get to whatever hotel the couple went to and then call our hotel for a pickup. Our last bit of fortune for the day came when we got to the couple’s hotel and saw the little restaurant near our own hotel. We were in walking distance from our bed. What a blessing! We thanked the couple and the driver profusely before heading to our home away from home. After a brief explanation to our hostess and an assurance that her dad wasn’t somewhere waiting for us, we headed up to our room for one last night in Santorini.

Day 14 | Day 16

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