While at a cocktail party in Montenegro- before we left on our 3-month tour of Greece, we met someone who had cruised the Cyclades the year before. One of the highlights of enjoying time with other cruisers is the wealth of information we can share with each other from one year to the next. Rarely do we all have the same itinerary. Even if we are wintering over for more than 1 year together, we will have varied cruising schedules. So, imagine my shock when the person replied, “they were all the same – one was as the other and honestly I can’t recall even the stops that we made to recommend or not”. Even though I had only been to Greece 30 years earlier, I had the memory of knowing that the few stops we made on a short cruise ship itinerary involved places of completely different (if similar) character. Suspecting that our conversation was unlikely to improve, I made my way to others in the room.
But as I sit here on the fly bridge approaching what is scheduled to be the last and final island on an exquisite tour of some of the most stunning and soul rich places we have been, I am in true awe of what makes the Greek Isles so special. And I can promise you that after stopping at 20 islands, each is decidedly NOT as the other. Each of the islands is as each of the people we met – unique and special and a treasure we will keep with us forever. I’m at once joyful at what we have experienced and sad to have to leave this wonderful place. (Americans are only permitted 90 days out of each 180 days in the Schengen area of which Greece is a part). I haven’t updated the blog lately because we have been living living! Living! but now, I’d like to get some words on paper so we can preserve some of the special memories we have made in this stunning archipelago.
At first glance, our routing would look haphazard and as Alec said it, “like a drunken sailor.” But we had a motive in mind when we resumed our course East ward following the Peloponnese to port. Even though Santorini was not intended to the be the highlight of OUR summer cruise, we knew from polling our guests who were joining us that it was an important stop. And why wouldn’t it be? It is so unique in terms of geology and scenery with the gleaming white buildings crowned with the iconic blue domes. It is likely the most photographed of all the Greek islands and it is an Instagram/social influencer dream.
But we are far from influencers aboard Gratitude. We aren’t looking for the perfect shot to convey the perfect image. Rather, we are looking for the perfect person who can sum up the perfect soul of a place.
So, for that reason, Santorini was further down on our list of favorite islands but what I CAN say about it – the caldera in the center, the largest in the world, with water of 300 meters depth climbing to mountains of 100 meters high was incredible. I could sit and stare in awe imagining the amazing cataclysmic explosion in 1400 BC, felt around the world, that left this gaping hole in its wake. People are an adaptable species and given the high cliffs and abundant sea life, for centuries, donkeys have carried goods up and down the 566 steps to the top. Today, that effort is augmented by a cable car operating from Thira which shuttles cruise ship passengers up and back to their ships. Speaking of cruise ships…
There is, near where the cruise ships ferry their customers to the port, a large, enclosed net which sits on the surface attempting to contain seepage from a cruise ship which sunk on April 5, 2007. I heard this shocking tail of a cruise ship, damaged and with a Captain dithering about for 8 hours, and then going to the deep commercial port to disembark the fortunate customers who made it safely to land, from someone sharing our ride to the port. Rumors abound on the island about what became of the captain, though the most credible is that he changed his name and ran off to avoid prosecution. Remembering that we have friends who were on a sunken ship in Greece, I asked them if this was their ship and, in fact, it was. The cruise company offered them compensation of 2500.00 each and a voucher for a future cruise. 2 passengers were lost and presumed dead. And the wreckage is still a ticking time bomb on the bottom of the caldera. Every day this ship sits is one more day that the fuel tanks suffer the corrosive effects of salt water. The insurance company and cruise ship company have already been ordered to contain the wreckage and remove the ship, but they are appealing the decision and the biggest loser (aside from the poor missing passengers) may well be the environment and the people who call this special place home. Today there are roughly 10000 regular inhabitants who work incredibly hard to support the 500,000 yearly visitors on this tiny island. But enough of that poor misbegotten adventure, on with ours…
The weather, warm over much of the Mediterranean, is cool and comfortable in Santorini (and many of the Cyclades islands) owing to the pleasant cool air funneling down from the North. This same North wind, called the Meltemi, is also what has kept us moored in several locations a few days longer than we may have preferred to remain, and to arrive earlier.
Santorini is made up of lava, ash, and oxidized iron which accounts for the 3 beaches, black, red, and brown.
I was able to enjoy Santorini a couple different ways, first while we were moored in Thirassia while awaiting my sister Kelly’s arrival, and then later when I took a ferry to meet Jen and Tracy. Both trips were totally different but equally enjoyable. With Kelly we were aboard Gratitude, and we took the dinghy over the Oia where we hiked, shopped, and dined on beautiful food. We met a few lovely humans away from the hustle and bustle of the main island and it was these encounters which left me with a sense of the soul of the place.
With Jennifer and Tracy, I met them at a lovely hotel (for lack of a better word). But “hotels” on Thira are truly in a class by themselves. The nicer of them, such as where we stayed, provided multiple rooms housed in one shared space with our own small wading pool. Truly God help the humans who daily deliver luggage to the inhabitants perched on the side of a mountain. These men (I didn’t see any women doing this job) climb up and down the cobbled stoned paths carrying cases larger than a child. They do this with a smile on their face and commitment of service.
We rented a car for a day and traveled from end to end seeing all that we could see and again, we ate and ate some of the most gorgeous food I have ever seen! If you are heading to Santorini, highlights included Mia’s, and a home cooked meal but I can’t remember the name – Jen or Tracy – Any help??
It is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by a trip to Santorini (Thira) but I beg you to make certain to include some smaller islands on your itinerary if you come to Greece. It is the smaller islands who hold the soul of Greece and in the absence of throngs of short-term visitors, the locals have the energy to share and impart that soul to you. What will follow in the next blog entries are the smaller islands in which we stopped making our way Northward to Athens.