Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Adventure - Kalispehra, Santorini (Part 2)

My posts are getting waaay long!  But there's so much to share!  I decided that I needed to dedicate one post to the beaches.  So this post will be dedicated to the other day adventures we had on this beautiful island.  Once again, here is the map of Santorini.
Santorini is named from Santa Irini.
But it is also known as Thira, which is also the name of the main town and port.
Truth be told, I don't really know which name is used by whom.  I'm assuming that Thira is used by the locals, and Fira is somehow easier for the tourists to understand.  But I could be completely wrong.  The th and the f sounds are really similar.  But to keep it simple, I'll just use Thira.
The white on the cliff is Thira.
We traveled to Thira on July 11th, the same day we went to White Beach and had our Fiat Panda.  This larger town is another major location for hotels and hostels, and there is a lot more shopping and museums to visit.

You want to be careful about where you park, as they will tow you away without hesitation.  But there are large lots of free parking around the main area of the town.  From the lot we parked in, we could see the other side of the island.
Santorini is actually quite small.  But there's so much to do!
We were only wearing flip flops for the beach, so there were parts of Thira that were somewhat slippery.  Since the town is on a cliff, there are lots of inclines and stairs that characterize the walkways.  If you were to go down to the port or go up to Thira from the port, you can take the cable car or hop on a donkey.  Thira is beautiful, though.  Knowing that the structures were up high on this cliff made me somewhat nervous, but I couldn't help but be in awe of the engineering that took place to make the town what it is.
A beautiful church.
Hilly and stoney.
"Well, hello, ladies. Would you like to ride my donkey?"
Thira on a Cliff.
More donkeys!
View of the Caldera from the restaurant where we ate.
As we were doing some more shopping, we ended up speaking to one of the store keepers about the lives of the donkeys.  Firstly, the donkeys are actually mules.  Each mule takes up to 3 or 4 trips up the stairs with a person on their back, but then they are retired for the day.  In the winter, when all the tourists are gone and the island is pretty empty, there is also chamomile that covers the island.  The mules are then sent to graze throughout the island and have as much chamomile as they like.  Apparently, these mules have a really nice life.  This was definitely comforting to hear.

Thira is definitely a great town, though it's very tourist-focused.  Every guidebook and person we spoke with suggested, however, to see the sunset at Oia (the O is silent, apparently, so it's Ia).  In the end, we didn't make it to Oia, but only because the sunset was spectacular in Thira.
Worshiping the sun.
Sunset over Santorini.
I think we had the perfect sunset situation going for us in Thira.  We got dinner at around 7 or 7:30pm, so we just sat amidst all the other outdoor restaurants with beautiful views.  I hear that there's a lot of pushing and shoving in Oia during the sunset.  It was nice to have front row seats to the spectacle.

Volcano and Hot Springs
On July 12th, Jenny and I booked a tour to see Nea Kameni, the volcano, and the hot springs that have come from it.  We were told to meet in front of the Ankor Travel Agency at 10:30am, which was perfect because we had to return our beloved Fiat Panda at 11am.

We woke up a bit later than we wanted to, so we decided on a Greek yogurt breakfast (I know, they probably just call it yogurt...).  About 7 of us were waiting for a big tour bus to pick us up.  But instead, a minivan showed up and asked us all to pile into the car.  I sat in the front passengers seat where I got to view a couple of messages from the van's automated system that read, "Safety Belt Fail.  Airbag Fail.  Antipollution Fail."

As the driver zoomed as fast as he could through the relatively narrow streets of Santorini, Jenny and I were a bit nervous about his driving.  I tried to focus on how delicious my yogurt with butter cookies was, but it was hard to not feel like my life was in jeopardy.  Then we got to the windy road on a cliff that would lead us to the Athinios Port, the main port of Santorini for ferries.

The driver seemed to whisper to me, "Your boat Odysseas."  I'm sure glad that I really wanted to pay attention to what was happening, because I really was apparently the only one to hear that.  Then he made his way to a main waiting area, stopped the van, and said, "Okay.  Your boat will be there (pointing to a specific dock).  You wait.  Goodbye."

We all piled out of the car, scratching our heads thinking, "Now, what?"  Considering that we had just experienced the wonder of the Red Beach/White Beach boat, Jenny and I were starting to realize that perhaps that is just how it is.  "Okay.  Now you jump."

I shared with the group the name of the boat, and soon we found ourselves at a dock next to where we were dropped off but on the Odysseas.
The Odysseas
At first, I thought that it was only us 7 on the tour, so I figured we should get to know each other.  However, the tour involved several different groups from different parts of the island.  Some were staying for the entire trip, while others were only doing bits and pieces of the tour.  The boat even went to Thira's port, which is mainly for cruise ships and tour boats.

Well, we finally set sail for Nea Kameni, the location of the volcano.  From a distance, the island looked like it was dotted with occasional trees and bushes.  But from a closer point of view, we could see that the trees and bushes were actually volcanic rock.  Our tour guide, Lucas, translated in Greek, English, and Italian that we were going to make several stops on the volcano, but we would need to make sure to be back on the boat by a specific time so the boat could make it to the next stop on the tour.
Volcanic rock!
View of Thira from the Volcano
I'm very glad we thought to bring our good walking shoes!
It would have been difficult to hike up the rocky slopes with flip flops!
Hot volcanic dirt!
Lucas told us about how the island was formed in several eruptions, the last of which was in 1950.  I know that part of the mythology of Santorini was that it was what was known as the Lost City of Atlantis due to all the volcanic and seismic activity.  However, geomythologists (what a freakin' cool major that would have been!) believe that Atlantis might have actually been closer to Crete's location.

In the last picture above, Lucas proceeded to start digging into the ground.  Under the dried top soil, there was a darker soil.  He then asked us to cup our palms, and he dropped a generous helping of the dirt into our hands.  We were all surprised by how hot the soil was!  It was then that my interest and sudden fear of volcanic activity mixed together.

It was amazing to know that we were standing on a volcano!  I didn't even see a volcano when I went to Hawaii, since Oahu doesn't have any more volcanic activity.  There was definitely a part of me that worried about, "What if there was seismic activity while we're on the volcano??"  But in the moment, I was really very happy that we were wearing nice walking shoes.  It was a hike up that volcano, and there were some paths that were more rocky than others.
These shoes were made for walking.
Plant life growing on the volcano.
Back at the dock
After all the folks returned to the boat, we made our way toward the hot springs.  We were told that we had only 20 minutes at the hot springs before we would move on.  As we approached the hot springs, I noticed that Lucas had changed into swimming trunks.  We immediately followed suit (pun definitely intended!) and readied ourselves for the hot springs.
Hot spring water.
I kid you not, when the boat stopped, Lucas said, "Okay.  Now you jump."
Jenny's splash!
My splash down!
Weeee! Jumping off boats is pretty freakin' awesome.
There's Lucas and his swimming outfit by the opening.
Though, we're pretty sure he didn't even get in the water.
Swimming towards the hot springs area.
The floor under this orangey water was kind of squishy!
I just told Jenny and myself that it must have been clay or something.
We probably could have covered ourselves in the clay for some
good mud bath action.
Seems like there was a meditation studio of some sort there.
Truthfully, the water wasn't super hot.  There were definitely pockets
where the gases from the volcano were escaping, thus making it hotter.
Some Australians were a bit too complainy about how it wasn't super hot.
But Jenny and I were just happy to be there.
So happy, we didn't want to get back on the boat.
The 20 minutes flew by so quickly!  But the Odysseas was ready to be on it's way to Thirassia, the western-most island of Santorini.  Thirassia is mainly a fisherman's town, so there's very little to see there except for the restaurants...and the donkeys.
View of the Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni, and Thira from the restaurant.
We ate lunch at one of the restaurants near the dock that featured an awesome looking windmill.  And after, we decided to take a donkey ride to the top of the cliff.  I figured, if there's any time to do it, this is it, man.

So, I had a lot of reservations about riding a donkey.  I'm not much of a horse-rider.  I like being relatively close to the ground.  The combination of donkeys and cliffs was what freaked me out the most.  But I just tried not to be too freaked out.
Pre-donkey boarding.
On the donkey.
On the donkey...on a cliff!
View of the port.
On the donkey...trying not to freak out!
I just didn't want my big booty to hurt the guy...
The donkeys were continually getting close to the edges, and they would stop momentarily before the donkey handler would encourage them to keep moving.  There was also a lot of donkey poop.  I was gripping onto the saddle for dear life - I even had rust marks in my palm after!  I was sweating up a storm on that donkey, just trying to stay calm and not worry about breaking the donkey.

When we made it to the top, the donkeys then walked back down the hill.  Jenny and I wondered, "But now what?"  We wanted to make sure we weren't late for the boat's departure, so after taking a couple of pictures and catching our breath, we proceeded to walk back down the poop-lined path.

Walking down that path made us feel exhausted after!  We had to walk carefully so as not to step on poop, but also because some of the stones were slippery and some of the steps were a bit more steep than others.  We were so glad to be on the boat again after that trip.

The Odysseas then set sail towards Oia.  We had the option of getting off, riding another donkey, and sticking around to see the sunset.  But we were pretty exhausted.  Like, falling asleep with my mouth open exhausted!  So, we opted to head back to Perissa and nap on our favorite beach chairs at Waves.  But, I got some really great shots of Oia from the boat.
Beautiful structures.
Colorful buildings.
Boat view of the edge of Oia.
Cliff-top vistas and a solitary church.
After all the boat trips, I started to feel like I had never gotten off the boat.  During my nap that day, I could still feel the rocking of the waves.  I'm glad to say that it didn't make me nauseous, but just a little bit dizzy at times.  I know, "A seasick mermaid?" you ask.  Only when I'm hungry on a boat and not facing the direction the boat is traveling in.  I'm perfectly fine in the water.

Kalispehra means Good Afternoon
Most of the time, our lunches in Santorini were more an extension of our breakfast or an earlier dinner.  But I just wanted to list some of the amazing foods we ate and drinks we drank.

Calamari - I mean, how can you go wrong with calamari, right?  Then, we learned that calamari was just better in Greece.  Firstly, it's fresh.  Secondly, the squids are bigger, thus the calamari rings are bigger.  Num!
Greek Salad - I know, this is another thing that seems like a no-brainer.  But, I have really come to love Greek Salad after this trip.  I don't know what I've been thinking ordering a regular salad with whatever dressing.  Greek salad, in it's simplest form, has been perfectly refreshing and satisfying.  I am planning on buying me a lot of feta for my salads.
Burgers - I know what you're thinking.  Really?  Yes, really!  At Waves, I had the pleasure of trying their "Greek Burger," which just had feta cheese, as well as the "Waves Burger," which featured the "special sauce" resembling Thousand Island dressing.  I kid you not, these were some of the best burgers I've ever had.  The meat just tasted better, perhaps due to the lack of too much processing as well as the cow's most-likely grass-fed diet. 
Fries - The fries were also delicious, even though their ketchup was less exciting than Canadian ketchup.  I figured that all the food was cooked/fried in olive oil, which makes anything exponentially better.  But fries were also a staple of a lot of the meals.  I couldn't really complain too much about that.
Fried and battered fish - Fresh seafood.  Need I say more?
Mythos Beer - A really good Greek lager.  It was refreshing and tasty, and a standard part of a lot of our lunches.
Santorini Wine - We were treated to a shot of wine with Vikki, one of the wait staff at Waves, as well as Dimitri, otherwise known as Greek Perry.  The wine was smooth and delicious.  For a shot of something, I probably could have kept on going.  Give me a big glass of it!
As you can see, there's so much to see and do and eat at Santorini.  Our days were jam-packed!  We had a lot on our to-do list, though our main priority was beach-side lounging.  We had wanted to try scuba diving as well as going to the Wine Museum.  Alas, these are adventures to save for our next trip back to Santorini.

Coming up next:  Kalineektha, Santorini.

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