Postcard-Perfect Santorini

EUROPE, Scenic Wonders, STAFF — By on March 17, 2013 at 21:14

By staff writer Cathie Nichols. Photos Copyright © Cathie Nichols.

IMAGINE POSSESSING THE ability to step inside a postcard whenever you wanted.  Which postcard would you step into?

I recommend any postcard from Santorini, a Greek island in the middle of the Aegean Sea.

Visiting Santorini was never on my radar until a recent combo trip to Turkey/Greece, and now it’s all I can think about.  Somehow, some day, I will return to Santorini and stay for more than a day because a day is not enough time to explore the whole island.  A day is only enough time to quickly glance at magnificent vistas, snap a few pictures, and snatch a few meaningless souvenirs.

Bougainvillea on Santorinit

Bougainvillea frames the church, the Aegean and the sky

My daughters and I arrived on Santorini at the Port of Fira in a tender from a cruise ship.  After getting off the small boat, we had a decision to make:  ride a donkey up the to the top of the mountain, hop into a cable car, or walk 588 steps up on a hot and humid day while the sun beat down on our heads.

The decision seemed obvious since our time was so limited:  we took the cable car.  Never mind my fear of heights and claustrophobia.  Although I am not religious, I found myself praying as we entered the glass-enclosed cubicle dangling from a thin wire hanging precariously above jagged cliffs that traveled at a high rate of speed up the steep slope to civilization.

Cable car ride up from the harbor in Santorini

Cable car ride up from the harbor in Santorini: not for the faint of heart

After stepping out of the cable car, we made our way through the narrow pathways to where all the shops were, and fashioned a plan.  The goal was to make it to the beach, so we had to find a way to get there.

Being from California is a definite disadvantage when it comes to thinking of alternative transportation: we are absolutely in love with our cars.  Fortunately, someone in our party thought of taking a bus to Oia, so we began looking for the bus station.

At the bus station, it was chaos and it took some time figuring out which bus to get on—but we did manage to make it and began the journey to the other side of the island.  The road was narrow and I tried to look out at the beautiful ocean rather than peek down at just how far we’d fall if there was an accident.

After arriving in Oia, our party decided on lunch.  One thing I’d like to say here is that if you’re looking for the kind of customer service you normally receive in the U.S., don’t bother visiting Santorini.  ‘Nuff said!

Santorini houses

Left: Homes are separated only by narrow paths and churches | Right: Every home has a view in Oia and when sunset hits, each home turns light orange

Sometimes when large groups try to coordinate trips, it can be disastrous, and sometimes it’s just fate.  Ours changed direction when one part of the group finished eating sooner than the other.  The slow eaters were left behind while the eager eaters decided to “take a quick peek” around the corner.  Because their “quick peek” turned out to be much longer than expected, we slow-pokes decided to go in search of them.

The only thing missing from this disaster in a foreign country is someone uttering a suggestion from a horror film: “Let’s split up.”

Santorini outlook

The white of the homes and the blue of the sea was blinding

Needless to say, we went around this corner, then that corner,  backtracked, then went back around the same corner and down a different path . . . and somehow ended up back on the square where we’d started.  The only problem was that the rest of our party was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, we made an executive decision and just went on ahead.  Our time was so limited on Santorini that we had to move on or we wouldn’t see anything.

Santorini church

Church at the top of paradise

Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked the people I was touring with, but it was nice to have whittled the group to only five.  It made stopping and taking numerous pictures of the astonishing views much less chaotic.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it this very same way—the fewer people to keep track of in a foreign country, the better.

Following the path down to the ocean was easy; the steps were large and meandered past private homes, hotels, restaurants, and churches.  Every home faced the beautiful Aegean.

Windmill on Santorini

Left: One of my favorite “world travelers” | Right: Windmill whipping in the wind

It’s so rare when I’m jealous of any homeowner but Santorini made me emerald green (the color of the water closest to the shore) with envy.  Each home seemed perfect.  I have since read that although the homes look somewhat small, many of them burrow into the side of the mountain.  I really wish I could have toured one while there, just to see.

Santorini doorways

Left: “I’ll take what’s behind Door #3, Alex.” | Right: Doorway to Heaven

The relentless sun, paired with the high temperatures, made finally arriving at the ocean that much sweeter.  After asking for additional directions, we started walking on a well-worn path, but to where?  Being on vacation can make one less concerned about all those “little” details.  It is, after all, about the journey and not so much the destination.

We followed the path strewn with volcanic rock and huge sink-holes to a favorite swimming area where everyone removed as much clothing as possible and jumped into the refreshing water. 

Port Ammoudi

Port Ammoudi at last!


Swimming on Santorini

Left: A favorite place for tourists to swim | Right: After the very long walk
on a sweltering day, a lovely place to swim

In the near distance, we could see a boat that took tourists to a mini island and we watched as they jumped from a very high point into the water.  One guy did a belly flop and I thought for sure he’d need medical assistance (he did not).

Fortunately, the rest of the group eventually wound up right there with us and we each joyously remarked on how that could have happened.

Stone church on Santorini

A church near Ammoudi Port

Staring up at the mountain from the bottom, knowing we had to get all the way back to the top, left us all drained and exhausted before we’d even started the trek.

The executive decision this time was to take a donkey ride up.  We paid our fee, got on our donkeys, and rode partially up the steep mountain.  Looking back down below, we realized it was better to ride the donkey up rather than riding the donkey down, and in fact, it became our tag line from the Santorini trip: “Donkey Up, No Donkey Down.”  We were going to have T-shirts made.

Santorini transportation

Left: Part of the 300 steps down to Ammoudi, a small port of Oia
Right: My ride back up the volcano

Santorini is a must-see Greek Island.  Of course you must get the dead skin nibbled off the bottoms of your feet while there, and make sure to grab a cone of frozen yogurt.  It is so delicious.  Yum, yum.

Sunset on Santorini

Sunset over Santorini

My favorite part of the whole trip was realizing that some places are as beautiful as their photographs.

Cathie Nichols

Cathie Nichols

———

Cathie Nichols (aka @Bloggoneit) is an author-in-training and is in the process of writing a book. Sometimes overwhelmed with three kids, a husband, a dog, a cat, and an overactive imagination, she finds her sanity by escaping life through a super sappy movie or tweeting about twending topics.

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    15 Comments

  • Jeannine says:

    I would love to get to Santorini one day. A few years ago I was able to visit the Greek island Hydros and it was also stunning! Jeannine

    • bloggoneit
      Twitter: bloggoneit
      says:

      Hi, Jeannine.
      We only got to see two islands on this trip: Patmos and Santorini. Patmos was okay but it was nothing compared to Santorini. In fact, it reminded me of Catalina Island in California — nothing to travel 11 hours for to see something that looks like somewhere you’ve already been. Wow, that was a mouthful!

      I am not a photographer so although these photos look good, the real view was amazing!!

  • Ann Mc
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    Wow! I’m speechless! What an absolutely stunning place to visit (much less live!). I’m with you – I’d prefer a smaller tour group….especially since I would have taken a zillion pictures and would have been the slow-poke of the group! Thanks for a magnificent tour!

    • bloggoneit
      Twitter: bloggoneit
      says:

      The smaller group was a real blessing especially when we were this far into the trip. As more of an introvert, I prefer small, intimate groups. At the end of the day, I would retreat to my room and just grab an hour or two of solitude. Thank goodness for a good book!

  • Betsyv says:

    Wonderful article about a wonderful place. I have always wanted to visit Santorini. Your photos are beautiful… Mike and I are not very touristy tourists, and have always wanted to go our own way..and avoid the crowds, so breaking up a large group is ideal to me.

    We are wanderers, and like to take our time and chat with locals, So we don’t do well with the pressure of keeping up with everyone else….Id feel I missed a lot doing that.

    I am a bit green myself. Of the people who live there and of you, being able to see it all in person…It is also rare for me to feel this way, and in this case I’m with Kermit…It’s not easy being green…lol
    Thank you for sharing.. I enjoyed this a lot.

    • bloggoneit
      Twitter: bloggoneit
      says:

      Thank you. It was gorgeous, I must admit. When I look at the pictures, I have a physical sensation, an attraction and a desire to go there again. It sounds completely ridiculous (even to me), but it’s like a physical ache. No doubt I will make it back one day and spend something closer to a couple weeks rather than one day.

      You have to put it on your “must see” list!! It will be so worth it.

  • Bernadine says:

    Great article. Your writing made your time there feel real, not like I was reading just another travel blog. Also made me long to see and experience what you saw and experienced. almost got out my credit card to book a flight. Once again great writing!

    • bloggoneit
      Twitter: bloggoneit
      says:

      Glad you liked it–it was definitely a trip of a lifetime. Wish I could go back and spend a month there especially down near the water where we ended up because the water was a color I had no idea occurred naturally in nature. Such a blue as I will not see again anywhere else.

      I’ve written more posts to Milliver’s Travels. Go check them out if you haven’t already!

  • Ruth says:

    Absolutely enjoyed the humorous way you carried us along throughout the day in Santorini. I felt transported in a real way because your descriptions highlighted the excitement of the adventure including the emotions of fear (of heights) and anxiety (separation of a part of your group).I think that this is what travel is about.I always enjoy visiting new places. It pushes us past the limits of daily routines (ruts). Santorini was just to spectacular to miss anything to be held back by anything. By the way,I would have loved to ride a donkey up the hill. What gorgeous photos, it’s too bad you didn’t have more time to take more.Without being falsely reverent, you certainly have me convinced.Santorini should be on the agenda of any traveler. If I were to visit Greece, I would see Santorini.Irregardless,from now on,I will visit Santorini in my dreams.

    • bloggoneit
      Twitter: bloggoneit
      says:

      You should go one step further and book a cruise through the Greek Islands. They are uniquely beautiful, I am sure. I just saw two of the islands and they were vastly different from each other. Patmos seemed more to rely on its beaches and the shopping at the port where we arrived. It looked a lot like California.

      What I most appreciated about Patmos is that after spending so many days in Turkey dodging the many street vendors asking me to buy this or that, nobody approached me on this tiny island. It was a much needed break from constant interruption.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post and respond. It’s greatly appreciated!

  • Stacey Ross
    Twitter: sdbargainmama
    says:

    What a lovely experience and beautiful photos. Memories to last a lifetime, no doubt!! 🙂

  • Estrella Azul
    Twitter: EstrellaAzul
    says:

    What a (truly) postcard-perfect place you introduced us to, it makes me want to head over there right away. Amazing photos, too, I’m starting to turn emerald green myself 😉

    Many, many places are just as beautiful as their photographs, so I’d step into basically any postcard, there are very few places I’d turn down visiting.

    • bloggoneit
      Twitter: bloggoneit
      says:

      Santorini is an exceptional place to visit — not only for the views but for the added experiences found only there.

      I will never forget Santorini and hope that others will visit and make their own memories.

      It’s funny that I even mention postcards — haven’t gotten one in about 100 years! Of course I don’t send them either [sheeping grin]. I bought the postcards in Turkey and Greece but mailed NONE.

      Bad writer!!

  • Aras Androck says:

    Santorini is definitely on my bucket list!

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