The Steps of Splendid Santorini

The island of Santorini is worth it. Santorini is one of those places you should go to once in your life, especially if you’re in Greece anyway. It is a big touristic island full of touristic shops and restaurants. It is also full of tourists. I wondered “why are all these people here on MY holiday?” all the time. (I’m kidding.) We had four days in Fira, the middle of the crescent-shaped island. We stayed at a hotel that looked out over the ocean and the caldera with our own private jacuzzi which was the same tepid temperature all day—but felt cool in the day, and warm at night. The hotel was also right above the long zig-zag path down to the harbour and therefore we got to people watch all day as everyone panted and sweat on the way up and carefully stepped and sweat on the way down.

Our first day was a hot and sweaty and stressful. Santorini is worth it but let me tell you a bit about the trouble you must go through to enjoy it. It is very hilly. This place is not really built for unfit people. It certainly is not friendly to the rolling suitcase. Or the unsure-of-foot. It is a bit slippery everywhere, and the rocks of the path aren’t necessarily fitted nicely together everywhere you step. There are twists and turns and sudden ups and downs which can be charming on a well-rested hands-free day. Add to that we were navigating from the bus terminal to our hotel using Google maps which was fairly accurate but still confusing to figure out because of the twists, turns, ups, and downs.

When we were finally alone in our room, all I wanted was to clean the inch-thick layer of sweat off my body. We refreshed ourselves and then went up to the adjoining restaurant for an early dinner. It was fantastic. We enjoyed the view and our drinks a lot. Our senses of humour reemerged and we laughed and laughed, no cares at all.

Another thing to deal with while in Greece which I omitted from my last post is the fact that you cannot put toilet paper down the toilet. This means always having to put it carefully in the trash bin next to the toilet. This is not new territory for us, but it has been a while since we’ve had to live with this fact of life. The sewage system in Greece is simply not equipped to accommodate anything unnatural. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the cause of a blockage. There were a few times in public toilets I had to wait for the previous woman to flush the toilet about four times because they invariably forgot…or refused to do the right thing.

When travelling, we prefer to get up early and do things before everyone else, and also to avoid the hotter parts of the day. One thing that got in our way for us while in Santorini was the fact our included breakfast was only served between the hours of 9am and 10am. Our first full day I arose at 6am as per usual. I made a coffee, got my kindle, and read outside on our little shared patio. I soon heard the jingle jangle of bells and got my camera just in time to capture the day’s first group of donkeys as they meandered down the path. I loved watching them all come down the mountain along with their keepers, encouraging them to keep going. These animals are hard-working beasts. They come from who knows where around 6am and don’t come back up at least 13 hours later…we never rode a donkey although I did contemplate it a few times. I just didn’t know if it was ethical or right to buy a donkey ride…these poor animals stand in the sun for the whole day, ferrying tourists (some fatter than they’d hope, I’m sure) up and down about a kilometre and a half each way. Sometimes there is shade for some of them. I felt so sorry for them…and couldn’t stomach adding my lug of a body to their burden. I do wonder if by buying rides, it helps to feed and water them? I wasn’t sure which way was right, so I merely said hello to them and patted a couple on the nose. Callum wondered if they all have names. I said I hope so.

After breakfast on our first day, we got ready to go for a long walk. Callum wanted to do the hike to Oia, which is about a 10km walk from Fira. Oia is the town on the far-right tip (or the top of the tip) of the crescent. It is where the famous blue domes are, and where all the postcard photos are taken. We got as far as Imerovigli, only about 2kms into the walk! Part of the reason for this is that I stopped about every 100 meters to either take a photo or look in a shop. When we reached the next little town, we were hot, sweaty, and ready for a cool drink. We came upon a small fruit juice stand and discovered it had a seating area up some steps. We sat down and ordered a cold water and a strawberry juice, which set us back about 13 euros. It was worth it. As we were cooling off and taking photos, I suggested we take a bus the rest of the way to Oia. Thankfully, Callum agreed. When he went to Santorini years ago as a backpacker on holiday with his mate, they stayed in a campground and they did the walk to Oia. Now, he is a married man with a wife who does not relish the long walks in the blazing sun and heat (with no chance for shade along the way) so a bus sounded good to him too.

We got to Oia and explored the town along with about 4.5 million other people. We eventually found a nice place for lunch, after walking around and balking at the prices of every single place. We went up to the rooftop where we were quite comfortable with a light breeze, and a couple of giant fans cooling the patrons. We ordered a lunch and enjoyed watching the bourgeois couple next to us…she was taking selfie after selfie, as well as holding every morsel of food up to the sky for a photo, while he looked displeased in his designer clothes, gold watch, and expensive aviators, scrolling through his phone. We wondered what their story was.

After our lunch we walked down the zig zag path to Ammoudi Bay where we strolled along the coastline for a few minutes until we got to the spot where tourists jump into the water. We were so hot we were eager to jump in. The current was strong and the rocks very sharp. I kept my sandals on and was glad of it. The water was refreshing but we didn’t stay long. There were so many people! We somehow managed to get our clothes back on and started the long hot walk back up to the town. I wondered if it had all been worth it or not. It was so hot, and the walk so tough, that I wasn’t sure. I’m glad I have the experience under my belt, but I will never do it again.

We decided to go back ‘home’ to Fira and found our way back to the bus area, caught a bus, and enjoyed the air con for the 25 minutes or so back to our town. We got to our room and rested and recovered. By the way, buses are very cheap—about the only thing so far! One fare is 1.20 to Oia and then 1.60 back to Fira. It’s easy to buy the tickets onboard or right after the bus ride.

The next day was an epic one. I had read that if you want good pictures of the famous blue domes in Oia, the early morning was the only way to achieve that. After seeing how many people were there in the afternoon the day before, I wanted to give it a try. I was willing to get up quite early, but as we were beholden to public buses, the earliest bus left from Fira at 7:10am. Therefore, the absolute earliest we could get to Oia was about 25 minutes after that. The bus was late, of course (best to be patient in Greece) and we got to our destination just before 8am. The time matters because it is already quite warm, and 9am is when all of the cruisers arrive.

When we found THE spot to take pictures, there was already a line of people. No too long, just about four couples in front of us. The place I am describing is the small pathway of the Luxus VIP Suites hotel…this is where everyone tries to get photos because of the proximity of the famous blue domes. There are a few different ‘levels’ starting from a gate which everyone just opens and goes through. Because everyone does it, we didn’t think we were doing anything wrong. The thing is to just be quiet and respectful. It is also good to keep your photos short and sweet. Take your three or four photos, then leave the location to go back up, or, go further down to take more pictures, leaving room for the next group. The further you go down, the more into the private properties on either side. We got shooed away by some authoritative guy. All us tourists were quite upset at being treated like children…we just wanted the pictures everyone gets! But there were some noisier people who alerted hotel staff that we were all there. Some people in line didn’t get any pictures. Mostly because some people were quite selfish and took waaaay too long to get their photos. And the red-dress-blowing-in-the-wind Instagram girls and their professional photographers barged ahead of everyone else while we were waiting.

There are other places to get photos, but that was THE spot. It was a bit stressful, and I didn’t really get the shots of my dreams, but I am thankful for the few we did get.

After this we quickly and quietly made our way to other good photo spots and respectfully got heaps more pictures. We also had a conversation about whether or not we should be shooed away, whether or not it was right, and so on. The main thing the hotel staff said was that the people on their balconies paid 600 euros a night and didn’t need people standing next to them taking pictures while they were waking up, sleeping, or having a coffee. I guess fair enough. But I mean, my argument is that where those people were choosing to stay is the THE MOST POPULAR PHOTO SPOT on all of Santorini. Perhaps in all of Greece! So, expect there to be some annoyances. Stay somewhere else…Callum thinks he would be quite pissed off if we stayed in that room and there were heaps of people right outside our window taking pictures. I reckon sure, true, but it’s something I’d expect at the number one photo spot in all of the country. We agree to disagree sometimes.

After our very busy morning taking pictures, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the bus area while waiting for a bus back to Fira. Once we arrived, we had a couple of hours of rest before our late afternoon activity.

We did a ‘sunset’ cruise to the caldera and one last view of Oia at sunset time. We tried to get a cable car down to the bay but when we walked up from our hotel (very hot day again, I might add) the line was 10,000 people long and we decided we had to turn around and walk down. I was displeased at this, having just done a long walk down the steep steps the day before. I was jelly-legged and slow as molasses on the way down because I was so frightened of falling. We hadn’t had lunch yet, as the plan was to take the 3-minute cable car down, have a nice leisurely lunch, and then arrive to our boat refreshed and good-tempered. Because of the 30 minutes in the hot sun on a difficult walk, we were a bit out of sorts. We had to grab a very quick sandwich but after checking in, found our boat wasn’t there yet and had some time to slow down our chewing. We even had time for a gelato, which was a huge relief to me.

When we got on the boat, we were the last people to board and found out we weren’t the only port the boat had collected people from. Because of this, we didn’t have a choice in places to sit, and found a spot downstairs under cover. The shade was welcome, but it was quite stuffy and uncomfortable. I will try to make this short…the tour was expensive for what we got. Other people sort of ‘claimed’ spots. Good spots, upstairs in the breeze, with a view. We never got to sit up there until the last 20 minutes of the day when I made friends with some Irish people who happily agreed to let us sit with them. It was the only time I actually enjoyed the 6-hour boat ride. That’s a shame. I mean, we did get to visit the caldera (volcano), we did do the hike up to the top (which most people avoided because of the heat and bright sun). We did jump in the water and swim to the hot springs (not too hot, quite refreshing), and we did enjoy a buffet dinner. The food was so-so, and not very plentiful. The wine was diluted, and the water given in tiny cups made us go back several times for more. Then we sailed to Oia but didn’t get very close and didn’t stay for the actual sunset as promised. Overall, the experience was not worth the price we paid, but again, I’m glad we did it. I would have wondered if we didn’t. I would suggest to people to get a tour figured out the day you arrive on Santorini in person as the prices were much higher online. Try to get up top quickly. In my review that I wrote, I mentioned to the company that I thought there were way too many people on board. They should have had half the amount of people so that everyone could have an upstairs place for the view, and a downstairs place for the shade.

The day after our epic day was spent resting, reading, and a bit of shopping for souvenirs. We left the day after, paying for a taxi to the airport, catching an early flight to Naples.

I would return to Santorini if I was very rich. I would pay people to take care of my luggage. And I would go to other parts of the island via private driver. I would then visit two or three other islands to see the difference between the more touristy ones and the quieter ones. One day, we may return. But probably not to Santorini, because we will probably never be very rich. We did make the decision to stay in Fira, which was much cheaper than Oia. This was the right decision. Fira is lovely and busy enough, but the restaurant and accommodation prices are much cheaper, and, as stated the buses to Oia are affordable. It’s also sort of nice to sit in air conditioning anyway, and to see a bit of the countryside along the way.

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