7/3/13 - 7/20/13
Santorini Greece was our first port of call. I could not wait to see the stark white buildings against the bright blue of the sky and sea and to experience a Santorini sunset. So, despite the fact that we would not be in port until the afternoon, I still managed to wake up early because I was too excited to sleep. Which was probably a good thing because someone had to wait in line for a tender ticket. We had not booked a cruise ship excursion, so would not be able to access early transportation to the island without a tender ticket.
After I picked up the tickets, we made the most of our morning by enjoying a leisurely breakfast on the balcony.
And because breakfast with a view was not sufficiently wonderful, there were also dolphins. Yes, dolphins! After a relaxed morning, we returned to our balcony to take in the view as we inched closer to Santorini.
By this point, I was getting less patient - I was ready to be on the island! Our tender number was eventually called and after a short ride, we were there.
This is where it gets interesting. The old port at Fira, which is where the tenders docked, is located directly below the town. And by below, I mean at the bottom of a steep cliff. In order to get to the top, one must either take the cable car (which already had a loooong line), walk up 588 donkey poop covered stairs, or pay to ride one of the donkeys. Our cruise company had not recommended the final option due to the mistreatment of the animals and I neither wanted to walk up 588 stairs nor wait in a line. So we settled on another option - taking a boat to Oia, which I really wanted to see, then catching a shuttle back to Fira, where we could find our way back down to the port. This option cost €20 a person regardless of which vendor at which it was booked.
Unfortunately, nothing was very well organized. The boat sat at the dock for 20 minutes and when we arrived at the port of Oia, there was no bus waiting (as promised) to take us into the town. Eventually, someone in our group convinced someone with a bus to take us. This consisted of a driver backing a large bus up a steep and curvy road, with nothing but a steep drop into the ocean on the right hand side. A bit nerve wracking. After all of this, I was thrilled to be in Oia.
There was no real plan or agenda. We simply walked around the town and did a little shopping. Although there were many tempting things to buy, we chose a small painting of Santorini. The artist, Katerina Drosou, who resides on the island, uses either wood from wine barrels or pieces of old houses, both of which come from Santorini. There were so many beautiful and unique options that it was difficult to choose, but we eventually settled on a small, colorful piece painted on a fragment of wood floor.
Later, we found a spot for a late lunch.
Not a bad view for a meal.
We shared a pizza made with Santorini ingredients including a creamy cheese (similar to ricotta), capers, and sun dried tomatoes. I also had to try a frappe. It was delicious!
We even managed to escape much of the cruise ship crowd in Oia. Thankfully, we were the only ship in port at the time, but even then it could get a little chaotic.
We took in the views across the island as we rode between Oia and Fira. Although I knew to expect the cliff-hugging white houses on one side of the island, I did not expect the low-lying, vineyard covered lower half of the island. All of it was beautiful, though.
Sadly, once we arrived in Fira, the crowds were relentless among the maze of streets. It made it almost impossible to appreciate the charming shops selling handmade embroidery or one-of-a-kind jewelry. Of course, for each of these places, there were two tacky tourist shops selling shot glasses and snow globes. Although I loved the opportunity to visit Santorini, I don't believe that it is an ideal cruise ship port. It is simply too small without the infrastructure to support so many people. Although I enjoyed the day, it almost felt like I had to work too hard to find the enjoyable moments.
We soon decided to make our way back to the ship. Two hours before the last tender, the cable car line already stretched well beyond anything I was willing to endure. Our only option was to brave the steps. We paused at the top to savor the beginning of the sunset before beginning the journey down the stairs.
We slowly made our way down, taking an occasional stop to enjoy the view while doing our best to avoid both the donkeys and what they left behind. If nothing else, going down was certainly easier than going up would have been. Regardless, it was beautiful. Truly a one of a kind sunset.
We got back to the ship just in time to catch the very end of the sunset over the island.
After a late dinner, we lingered in the jazz lounge enjoying drinks and music. I ended the evening where the day began - on the balcony - mesmerized by the twinkling lights of the island beneath a starry sky.
Santorini was everything I expected - stunning, romantic, and yet oh-so-crowded. As much as I enjoyed our time in port, I would love see more of the island apart from a cruise and away from the crowds. In the meantime, I would have to settle for Istanbul!