We woke very early at our hotel in Athens so we could get to the airport with enough time before our flight to Santorini. While we waited for our cab, the hotel clerk at the front desk asked us about our plans and promised that we would love Santorini.
The taxi ride went fairly quickly, and it was strange to see the streets and squares of Athens so empty… the Christmas decorations strung over the roads seemed even more lovely than usual in the still early morning.
Before long we were on a very cramped plane, flying over the Mediterranean toward Santorini. We slept for most of the short flight, but did get to see the sunrise over the clouds, which was pretty cool!
We took another cab to Summer Time hotel in Santorini, where they were nice enough to let us check in early and choose our room. We had a large room which was updated and furnished with modern accessories, and we decided to take advantage of the comfy bed and get a little much-needed shuteye before taking on Santorini.
We set off after our nap, armed with the hotel-provided map of Fira and the view of the ocean ahead to orient us. Unfortunately we were actually looking at the ocean on the wrong side of the island at first, so our map made no sense and we ended up getting a tad lost for a while! Of course, if you’re going to be lost anywhere, Santorini is a gorgeous place to do it!
Eventually we realized our mistake – which was fairly obvious when you think about the breathtaking “caldera views” in all the photos… the other side of the island just slopes rather gently down to the ocean. I blame the lack of sleep from the night before!
Anyway, eventually we found the central square of Fira, and stopped to have brunch at a place called Vithos. We had crepes and waffles with ice cream (a combination I’ve never tried before!). Once we’d refueled, we headed up to finally take in those breathtaking views that the caldera offers. Along the way we also bought a few souvenirs – a small olivewood mortar and pestle for me and a pretty hand-painted bowl for my sister – before we finally glimpsed those sweeping views.
We walked along the promenade there for a while, enjoying the views, before deciding to look for the blue domed church that seems to show up in every photograph of the island. We quickly realized, however, that while there are dozens of churches with blue domes on the island, there weren’t any you could get “above” to get such a picture of in Fira. In fact, the famous ones are actually in Oia–and we decided to head there to look for them the next day.
We headed back to the hotel for another quick nap (already settling into the pace of the island, apparently!) and woke up shortly before sunset. We headed back to the main promenade along the caldera until we found a place called PK Bar. It was a cute little patio with one of the gorgeous stone mosaics that are everywhere on Santorini, and feel nice on your feet. 🙂 It also appeared to be one of the few places still open for the winter. The drinks were a bit pricey (as we were told everything is, along the caldera) but they were really, really good. I had a warm drink called a Swiss Cottage and later a passionfruit-based drink while Ryan enjoyed something called a 300 and then a pistachio drink. It was a really fun way to spend the evening, just sipping drinks and watching the sun set into Amoudi Bay!
Afterward we made a quick stop at a market near our hotel to stock up on some snacks and then went back to our room for the evening, where we enjoyed watching Greek Wheel of Fortune and filling out postcards before bed!
Santorini was strategically placed at the end of our trip so that we could relax. After taking on Athens, driving to Meteora and Delphi, and then returning to Athens, I thought it would be good for us to have almost nothing planned for Santorini… that way we could see what we wanted to do once we were there. That was really fun for the first day, but then the second day we felt like we needed something to actually do. So after a breakfast of omelettes in the gorgeous garden patio near the Pelican Hotel, we headed to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
Entry was 3€ each, and we had the whole museum to ourselves! All of the artifacts at the museum are from the site of Akrotiri, which is on the south side of the island. They have a lot of pottery, frescoes, some fossils, and everyday tools that the people would have used. I really liked one of the motifs that appeared on a lot of the pottery–pink dolphins diving and porpoising. It was also really interesting that they had symbols to label what was in each amphora–one for wine, one for water, etc. At the end of the museum are the two pièces de résistance – the blue monkeys fresco and a mysterious little gold ibex which was unlike anything else found at the site.
After seeing all the pieces from the site, we walked along the caldera a bit, refreshing ourselves with a little gelato. Since the museum had been so interesting, we decided that we should go visit the archaeological site where all the pieces came from, at Akrotiri on the south of the island. We could have taken the bus but decided with how cheap rental cars are on the island, that we would rent one (25€ + 7€ insurance for 24 hours) so we could go off exploring on our own.
At the suggestion of the car rental guy, we decided to go to the Akrotiri Archeaological Site first. We didn’t have any trouble finding it–it was less than a half hour drive–and went in right away. The site is covered by a large, energy-efficient building which lets in a lot of natural light, so that part was pretty cool. Then there are wooden platforms that allow you to walk over the active excavation site. The city was destroyed around 1600BC, when the volcano erupted and covered the Minoan settlement in ash, preserving it. It’s really interesting to have basically a whole city underneath you, a lot of which is still underground! I’ve never been to an active archaeological site like that, so that part of the experience was cool in itself. The most interesting room, probably, was this “storage room” where a lot of really large jars and amphora – that were painted with symbols like the ones at Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
After the archaeological site, we decided to head over to nearby Red Beach. We hiked up a short way and were treated to a gorgeous overlook of the red cliffs over the beach (Ryan was disappointed, pointing out that the sand at the beach wasn’t actually red – it was white, and just the cliffs over them were!). The view was really pretty and we took lots of pictures. We could have climbed down all the way to the beach, but since we weren’t going to swim we didn’t think the climb all the way down and back up would be worth it. Plus, we still had a few other things on our list for the day!
We set off for Perissa Black Beach, one of Santorini’s two main black beaches, stopping along the way to take pictures at another cool overlook. Perissa was really interesting — it’s a really long beach made of smooth black pebbles. I’d never been to a black beach before but the effect is really striking against the blue ocean! We were a bit hungry by then and ended up having a really good lunch (while overlooking the sea) at a place called Taverna Perissa. Ryan has seafood risotto and I had fried sole – both were excellent!
After lunch, we didn’t have a whole lot of time before the sunset would begin, and we wanted to get up to Oia for it. Google Maps said the drive would take 45 minutes, but due to Ryan’s (*cough cough insane*) driving we got there in 25 minutes! Along the way we had some nice sea views, saw some donkeys, glimpsed some caves along the cliffs, and, of course, saw a few more blue-domed churches.
Finally we arrived on the edge of Oia, which we didn’t realize was a city you have to walk into. We found the crumbling castle, which is the usual spot for watching the sunset (and the source of all those Santorini-sunset-with-windmill pictures that you see), but it was already flooded with tourists and we still wanted to find the blue domed church, so we headed further into Oia’s winding streets instead.
It didn’t take long to spot the recognizable blue domes and then take a few turns to get above them for pictures. Unfortunately the experience of walking around Oia wasn’t super enjoyable–there were tons of tourists, many of which were not very courteous! Santorini is supposed to be one of the best places to watch the sunset in the world, and Oia is supposed to be the best place to see it on Santorini so… it only makes sense that it’s extremely popular!
Eventually, though, we found a great spot to get the perfect blue-dome picture! Then we headed to the other side of the church to watch the sun set behind it. We weren’t alone in the spot we found by any means, but it was a much less crowded spot so we were able to enjoy it more and maybe even feel a bit romantic–something that I don’t think would have happened at the castle!
When it was nearly dark, we returned to Fira and our hotel. We wanted something a little different for dinner and ended up having dim sum (followed by gelato!) in the main square of Fira before returning to the hotel for the night. The next day would be our last full day in Greece!
Our rental car had to be back by noon, so we decided to take a little trip in the morning to the town of Pyrgos. First, though, Ryan wanted to drive to the top of “the mountain” on the island. We did, and got some cool views because of it, but at the very top there was some kind of military base that we definitely weren’t allowed in so we turned around and went back down the mountain! We stopped at one point to look out over the island and found some ruins of what might have been a fortification a long time ago.
Next we headed down to our destination–Pyrgos. It was supposed to be an older village with some sort of castle, but what we found was basically a ghost town–I guess that place basically closes up shop for the winter! All we really managed to find was an old man who was sending stuff up into town on donkeys, another old man harvesting olives, and a woman who had the only souvenir shop in all of Pyrgos that was open! We had fun checking out the town anyway even though no one was really around!
On our way back to Fira, we stopped at a little cafe place by the airport and had some really good coffee (well, hot chocolate for me!) and pastries. We were the only non-locals there and the girls who made our drinks got really embarrassed when we tried to leave them a tip — although it would be standard practice for any place like that in the US!
We got the car back just a little bit before noon, and then had lots of time to kill before going to the airport that evening. Unfortunately, we’d pretty much done everything we wanted to do on Santorini — it really isn’t a large island, and most of the things there are to do there are basically just “relaxing”.
One of the things I had wanted to do was buy a bit of jewelry for my collection in Santorini, so we walked along “Gold Street” in Fira, looking at the different shops. Some were Byzantine designs, some were modern, and some were a combination of both. I really liked this London Blue topaz necklace in one shop, but we decided to keep looking. I wanted something a little less “modern” and a little more “Greek”. Konstantino had some nicer silver stuff that was more affordable, but I just didn’t really like the style. Finally, we ended up at a little shop called Drossos, which had delicate traditional gold designs and watches. Pretty quickly I fell in love with a pair of delicate gold earrings with little white enamel flowers… and with a gold Byzantine-style pendant set with a little ruby! They weren’t really a set but the owner said he would sell them as a set for a cheaper price, and I was really tempted, though originally I was only planning to spend as much as either one or the other would have cost.
We left the store to think about it over a smoothie and in the end I decided, why not? It could be a graduation present to myself! Since it was Sunday the owner had gone home and told us to call him if we decided to buy and he’d come back to the shop… we didn’t want to go back to the hotel to call but luckily the guy at the smoothie stand was nice enough to call him for us. So we met the owner back at the shop (where he pulled up on his BMW motorcycle) and I ended up going home with some really cute jewelry to remember our trip by!
Afterwards, we still had a few hours to kill and no ideas on how to do that. We ended up returning to PK Bar, where we decided to “drink like Europeans” but hopelessly failed. Anywhere we went people were somehow making a single drink last 2-3 hours, but we could only make ours last maybe 45 minutes, maximum! However the drinks were delicious and the bartender even gave us a free one after we’d each had a few so it wasn’t so bad! Our flight wasn’t until a little later, so we had a good time watching our third Santorini sunset while we were there, too. 🙂
Finally, we got a cab to the airport, where we had to wait for over an hour for the airport to open (even though RyanAir had told us we needed to show up extra early!) with all the other tourists. By the time we got in it was dark, and we felt ready to say goodbye to Santorini, though maybe not yet to Greece.
That evening in Athens we enjoyed another great view of the Acropolis from our hotel and had a feast of all our favorite Greek foods–Greek salad, saganaki, dolmades, gyro meat, souvlaki, etc. It was a really great way to end the last night of our trip!