After visiting Rome, Istanbul, Mykonos, Kusidasai, Ephesus, Patmos, and Rhodes, we were concerned that Santorini might be a disappointment. The other islands we visited were far more interesting than I had expected. Oia may be the most photographed island in the world. Some people think going to the Greek Islands is a lot of lying on the beach sipping a cold one. And they can be that, but why to to Greece if you can do that at home?
Having high expectations for Santorini and with the other islands being such a treat, I was concerned that Oia would be a let-down. How could Oia compare with its hype and the reality of the other islands? How??
It did. Oia is the most beautiful place I have ever visited. The tourists crowd the main shopping street. Just drop off the main boulevard, walk down or up 80 or 120 steps and you are in your own personal heaven. We stopped at a taverna overlooking an iconic blue domed church. We had the floor to ourselves until a mother and daughter from New Zealand happened in. We had a wide ranging and lively discussion with them of New Zealand, travel, San Francisco, where we have been and where we are going. They flew from New Zealand to San Francisco to get to Istanbul, then took a cruise to Athens on a different ship, and will fly to New Zealand via Tokyo with a brief stop-over. They will circumnavigate the world. All the while we soaked in the magnificent view from Oia (pronounced Eee-ah).
One of the things that makes Santorini and Oia most fascinating is the island of Santorini is crescent shaped. It is the largest island comprising the caldera of a volcano that exploded around 1400 BC. This is the largest caldera in the world. There is what looks like a cinder cone that is an island in the caldera center. It is an active volcano and still growing.
The Odyssey pulled into the caldera, which is over 1200 feet deep, early this morning. It is an amazing feast for the eyes. The towns of Santorini are built on the top of the caldera walls, historically to make it difficult for pirates to pillage the towns. Now they are just difficult to get to. The houses are traditionally white with blue doors, blue window frames, and with blue domed churches.
We took a tender from the Odyssey to port and boarded a bus that took us to the monetary, the highest point on the island. The east side of the island is very flat with black volcanic beaches. Originally the whole island was flat and circular, but over time the cinder cone developed into a volcano that blew it’s top leaving the caldera remnants abutting the flats east side. The high point of the island is 2000 feet above sea level. The rim of the caldera is 1000 feet high.
I for one was vary grateful that we took a bus from the sea level port and did not have to take donkeys or walk up from the shore. After visiting the monastery atop the mountain, we were taken to Oia. Our tour guide wasted about 15 minutes of our shore time in Oia going on about where to meet and what to see and do in Oia. We left him still talking and went off down the main shopping Blvd to the right and the windmill toward the end of the island. We very quickly tired of the crowds, opting to take stairways down and away, taking dramatic photos as we went.
The photos we took will speak for themselves. On our way into Oia, our tour guide pointed out Brad and Angelina’s house just outside the town and visible behind a not insignificant wall. He, our tour guide, said that they come to the island by helicopter each year in July and stay for a week.
After a very brief two hours in Oia, our bus took us back to Thera, the town above the sea level port and the capital of Santorini. There are three ways to get from Thera atop the caldera and the port: walk the switch backs, take a donkey on the switch backs, or take the gondola. We were given tickets to the gondola and our plan was to get to the gondola and head back to ship before the hoards headed out. One very good thing, there were no hoards. Only two small cruise ships were anchored in the caldera, ours and one that sailed from Israel. Even at that the shopping boulevard was crammed with tourists. I could not imagine Oia with three or five thousand people milling about. Ellen and I were pooped when we hit Thera and wanted to get back to the Odyssey to relax. The temperature was only 80, but the humidity was 80% and it felt much hotter.
Finding the gondola was easy and we queued up. When setting up to board the string of gondolas, the gal ushering us said, “Just two more here”. I was next in line and Ellen pushed through moments later to join me. This apparently set off an older woman who wanted to be with her friend, clearly not her husband, who was queued for the same car. He and she and another friend went on and on discussing how the gondolas worked, that she could get down in the car just beside this one (the gondolas are a sets of 8 cars each holding 6 people that go up and down the cable together), The husband was explaining in a foreign language that I do not understand that we’ll all arrive at the same time, there’s no difference if she rides this gondola or the one she was assigned, and this went on and on. We did not need to know the language to understand the conversation. She was adamant that some great tragedy had just unfolded and she had no intention of getting in the car to her right. She was getting in this car. Period. I was astounded at the vehemence with which she defended her wounded honor. I was thinking, If I get on this car with this woman I’ll wind up in a Greek jail for assault or worse. This was pettiness at its worst.
Eventually, the set of cars arrived and sure enough, she was the first one on the car. Ellen said, “I’m not getting on that car with her”. I agreed and we stood where we were, back against the wall as everyone allocated a car boarded. At last the doors on the gondolas closed and the woman’s husband looked at us and beckoned us in as if to say, there’s room come on in. I waved “bye bye”. He shook his head and motioned to the seats. I waved “bye bye” as the gondolas began moving.
The gal who organized boarding walked down and asked why we didn’t get aboard. I explained that one woman was being rude and we’d rather wait. We exchanged a knowing smile, she said “life is too short for that” and we waited for the next car. This was not really a problem, I prefer not to deal with intransigence where possible.
With six to a car, three more people were ushered to join us. Two woman and a fellow. We talked with the women for a while, when the guy said, “TESLA! ,Do you drive one?” I have been wearing my Tesla hat the entire trip and this was the first guy to mention it. “Yes, I do, but it is my wife’s car” It turns out that this fellow was involved with Volvo and Saab automobile design. He had driven a Tesla at an event in Colorado when visiting his daughter and he loves the car. We had a great discussion about cars until the gondolas arrived. The view from the gondola put conversation to rest, at least for a while.
This evening we had dinner with a group of Aussie’s who we’ve hit if of with, then saw a comedian at the Grand Salon. The comedian was funny. Our friends are fun, thoughtful, and quite accomplished. Again the conversation was wide ranging and included a discussion of Tesla and electric automobiles, construction in Australia, and community work in Africa. There was some discussion about Tesla as well.
Another couple we became close with is disembarks tomorrow at Athens and heading home soon. It is sad to see friends you are just getting to know, leave. One day not so far from now, it will be us. The Australian couple will travel through to Venice which will be fun.
As for photos, the internet connection aboard ship is flakey at best and not friendly for high def photo uploads. Tomorrow we will take a tour of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and Athens. On a on-tour day, we will lug our PC to a cyber cafe and upload a bunch of our Rhodes and Oia photos.