Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Long-Awaited Visit to Santorini

Sunday 11 September 2016. We have tried at least twice to get to Santorini before on previous cruises but the weather has always been too rough for a tender operation. This is where you leave the ship and climb down to a small boat which takes you to the port. The ship remains anchored in deep water off the coast.

Today though we manage to arrive and transfer to a tender boat operated by the Greeks. We were expecting to have to wait a while but once we had our tickets for the tender it was not long before we were seated at the back of the tender boat, watching the last few passengers being helped aboard.

As we move away from the side of the ship, the next tender boat waits to move in behind us. Santorini is famous for these cliffs. The village of Thira is built on the top and to get up there we have to either take a cable car or walk on our own legs or on those of a donkey up a zig-zag slope with almost 600 steps.

The cliffs are actually the side of a caldera, a volcanic feature created 3,600 years ago when the single island blew up, leaving a giant lagoon 7.5 miles by 4.3 miles surrounded by on three sides by 900 foot high cliffs and on the fourth side by a much smaller island called Therasia. This eruption is rumoured to be the origin of the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.

The lagoon is 400m (1300ft) deep, so only larger ships with a long anchor chain can safely anchor themselves. We approach the narrow strip of the landing at the bottom of the caldera cliff face and once here the local boat owners are trying to get us back into a boat to go to nearby Oia.

We wave away their offers and climb into the cable car which climbs up the 900 feet in around 3 minutes. Miss Franny wasn't worried about being in the cable car but was adamant that she would sit facing the cliff wall and not the view down...!

Just before we reach the top I take this photo of the buildings of Thira clinging to the edges of the precipice. A room with a view...

We come out of the cable car to a typical cobbled street. Most of the streets of Santorini are steeper than this, many with steps to assist you to climb without slipping. High heels are not a good idea here! I swapped mine for some sensible shoes...

The streets are a riot of shops aimed at the tourist trade. Jewellers, textiles, craft works, and art shops mingle with tourist souvenirs, fridge magnets, postcards, cafes and bars. One cafe sign said "Daphne Casserole" with a graphic of a casserole dish. Fancy coming all this way for a good dollop of 'tater pie wi' crust!

By happy coincidence Miss Franny's nails were painted in the exact blue of the Greek flag, which started many conversations as we passed shopkeepers, not all of which were just a simple exchange of greetings! We did buy some things there (I wonder what colour our fridge is under all those magnets) and Fran by the end of the day was sporting a really nice enamelled spiral ring which matched the afore-mentioned finger nails.

This is a fabulous place but decidedly not for the weak of limb or breath. Almost every street has a distinct incline. Consequently traffic is not a problem. On the few streets open to traffic, scooters or small vans are the norm with a sprinkling of four-wheel quad-bikes driven by tourists with more regard for thrills than pedestrians...

This was as wide a street as we found and (at this point at least) was fairly horizontal! Cafe bars predominated on one side with touristy souvenir shops on the other.

We found ourselves near the edge of the cliff. The buildings carry on for a while, clinging for dear life to the side and reached by dizzying steps, few of which had handrails.

Thomson Dream floats below us like a toy ship. The tiny tender boats are still ferrying passengers to and from Santorini. Two of the Dream's own tender boats are out as the crews exercise. No doubt though, they are keeping a close eye on the Greek boats in case of any emergency.

This is not the spot to choose a hotel unless you are very fit. Inaccessible to taxis, you will be carrying your luggage up and down these steps.

I get out the sketch pad and really enjoy the next 45 minutes or so. It is a challenge with the details of so many rooftop pools and narrow alleys and this is certainly not photographically correct, but I drew a few admirers whilst I was drawing apparently. One young girl with her boyfriend asked shyly whether I could do their portrait.
"Yes, with that..." I said, indicating the camera around the lad's neck and making them burst out laughing, "but not with the pencil I'm afraid!"

The cable car making its way up the cliff.

It was like a little train of pods. Like most cliff lifts it passes a similar line of pods going the other way at the halfway point.

There was still more to see and it was such a lovely place that we decided we would stay out for dinner. We found an un-named restaurant near the cathedral, the entrance set into a high wall. This led to a rooftop cafe with a wonderful view of the lagoon. Fran had a ham and cheese toastie and I had a Greek Feta cheese salad. Or at least, as much of it as I could eat!

Then more looking at shops and views and we bought a few postcards before heading back to the cable car. A party of about six people, British, stood blocking everyone's way, asking each other how much it was to ride the cable car. Meanwhile just three feet behind them was the ticket desk with a bemused lady who they could have asked. Just to the side of her window was a massive sign that showed the price anyway... Five euros per person each way, no return tickets sold, so you paid five euros just before travelling.

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