At some point during the night, I was conscious enough to create an alarm for 4.15. We hadn’t packed, and were supposed to leave the hotel at 5 for a 6.30 AM flight. We waited in the compact airport, and after a cup of Greek Coffee (Arghh, got milk?!) bid adieu to Rhodes which had a sun and a moon still fighting for sky rights when we boarded. Breakfast was at Negronis (It had become D’s favourite) in the Athens airport, who had a convenient breakfast platter. The Aegean craft to Santorini was larger (more visitors) and they gave us a chocolate croissant! Another reason to like the air hostesses, in addition to the chic uniform. I promptly fell asleep, and when I opened my eyes, we were at an airport. I asked D why she hadn’t woken me up as we landed! Apparently we were still at Rhodes, someone had fallen sick and we hadn’t taken off! Delayed by half an hour, it was almost noon by the time we landed at Santorini!
Santorini also had an airport by the sea, and the building was in their traditional architectural style. This does make airports cuter, not to mention human -I remembered Cambodia. A group bus landed us at the Volcano View Hotel in about 20 minutes. For the first time, I got help in transferring luggage – to the room. This was probably the best view from a room I’ve ever experienced, and the room itself was pristine. I wondered how they managed to keep their white walls so clean all the while. Our local contact (arranged by the tour operator) was waiting, so there was no time to enjoy it. There was WiFi, I noted. 😀
She gave us the hotel’s set of documents – shuttle timings to Fira (6 times a day) – 2 kms away, a vague map of the town, bus timings from and to Fira (from other towns) excursion plans, and other services. In addition, she gave us a map of the larger island, and had a few suggestions on what we should do. We had made our own plans – Oia the same day, and Akrotiri and Perissa the next day. But Akrotiri, was closed on Mondays. Awesome luck continued, and we had to make changes. The guide gave us other options, but the costs involved us took the decision for us. The hotel had tie ups for excursions and there was one which suited us, but though the brochure said May, they’d only start in June. Oh well! We decided to advance the Akrotiri trip by a day when we realised the time involved in getting there.
The shuttle to town was leaving at 2, so we quickly unpacked, freshened up, and began an exercise that would be repeated much in the days to come – running! The shuttle drop and pick up point was very close to the bus station, but we realised that the bus timings (from/to the Fira bus station) the hotel had given were outdated. Tip: Take a photo of the timings at the bus station. That place and that photo will be your anchor so long as you are in Santorini. The bus station is quite small, but busy. The procedure there was simple – near to the departure time of the bus, you mention the place at the information booth and they’d give you the bus number. The buses are air conditioned and relatively clean with comfortable seats. In any case, it takes less than 30 minutes from mostly anywhere to anywhere. The tickets to Akrotiri were at 1.6 euros per person, one way. Tickets to be purchased in the bus, whose horn was a revelation in terms of the sound generated. It was so ‘polite’! Since we didn’t have time for an elaborate lunch, (from the restaurants we had shortlisted) a quick trip to Nick the Grill (2 minutes away) was made for Gyros – the cheapest, most filling meal you can find. And it’s yummy too!
The vista was beautiful all the way to Akrotiri, and blue domed churches that would be be a recurring feature across Santorini. The last stop is right in front of the Archaeological museum, which was one of the things we’d come to see. There is an entrance fee of 10 euros, but it’s waived on Sundays. Some luck, at least! An entire town is being excavated – the houses, the utensils, and a snapshot of the lives lived thanks to the descriptions. I thought I’d made an important discovery about ancient Greeks until I realised that .. (see the last image in the set below!)
The Red Beach, the second thing we wanted to see, was a km away, with some rough terrain – for some time the previous month, it had been closed due to landslide scares. The beach is indeed a reddish-brown shade, accentuated by the red rocks around. We didn’t have much time to spend there if we were to make it for our more important trip. So we practically ran back, just in time for the bus to Fira.
From Fira, we caught the bus to Oia, 1.8 euros and half an hour away. From the town square, we tried to find Ochre Wine Bistro – the best place to watch the famous Oia sunset from. The information booth lady did give us directions, but we missed a turn, and as was becoming a habit, got lost in the tiny streets! Thankfully, there were all sorts of wonderful sights along the twisty, cobbled streets – from the famous blue domes that appear in all the memorabilia to cats for rent – and the shopkeepers were very helpful, thus we finally found the place. I think it is easier to approach it via the main road, which has a couple of more options for the splendid view. The fortress is the free option, though it’s bound to be crowded.
Sunset was supposed to be around 8.15 and it was only 6.30, but we wanted a good table, and so, tried different tables before settling on one. A Japanese couple was already there. I chose a table, but then gave in to the suggestion made by the restaurant staff. Turned out later that my choice was better, but in any case, the best shots are from the other end of the restaurant – totally reserved, so I had to stand in the corridor when it was time for the ‘shoot’. Since we had a while to spend, we kept stalling the waiter, who was pushy in the beginning, but relented soon, and was extremely friendly and helpful as time passed. The Japanese couple were up to the same tricks. Later, other groups came in, and they seemed like regulars – dining here everyday, probably trying for the best shot! The funny thing was, at the time of the sunset, another Japanese guy ran into the restaurant, tripod and all, set up his stuff, took the shot in a few minutes and ran right back! 😀
Meanwhile, we tried the local Donkey beer, (red version) a Sangria different from the versions we’ve had, a Strapatsada, [a traditional dish with scrambled eggs dish, feta cheese, tomato and Cretan apaki (smoked pork meat with herbs)] a Moussaka (minced beef, eggplant, béchamel with graviera cheese) and a Fresh Rooster. (kokkoras krasatos) (cooked in a wine sauce with mushrooms, pearl onions and smoked bacon and served with absolutely homemade pasta) Our timing was a bit awry, because the main course arrived just as the sun was setting. It really didn’t help that there was a better shot every minute! The sunset was indeed splendid. We didn’t have a lot of time after that, because we had to catch a bus!
I practically clicked as I ran too – Oia is so beautiful at night! We did some really quick shopping, thanked the shopkeeper lady who had given directions, and wished we had time to buy something from her too! We lost our way again, and barely made it in time for the 9PM bus from the square. I saw a guy standing near the bus’ door, and with his clipboard, thought he was a lottery seller. He kept pulling me back as I tried to get in, turned out this time tickets were being sold outside! (the only time this happened)
An extremely crowded bus, and we stood for half the way before we got a seat. (tip: the last bus is at 9.30 but we caught the 9PM one because the last shuttle from Fira to the hotel was at 10.05, and the 9.30 option might have been touch and go. It would be a good idea to stay a night in Oia) We had enough time for a hot chocolate before the shuttle arrived. We planned for the next day with the updated bus schedule and slept soundly thanks to a hectic day.