A Greek Odyssey – day 4

Classical Greek

Today we got up early to catch the first bus to Thira (7.30 am) and from there get another bus to take us further north, to Oia at the end of the island, arriving in this much instagrammed village of white washed houses and blue domed churches before 9 am.

One of the first sites we saw after we got off the bus and entered the town square in front of the church was a young lady, in a beautiful, long, very long, blue dress being told to run whilst chased by a photographer and videographer, there to capture the blue dress dazzling and billowing behind her, against the pristine white walls of the church and unblemished azure blue sky. Welcome to the world of Instagram, tik-tok and instant likes! The setting was stunning, and the crowds yet to materialise, hence this shot could happen, and we could also begin to explore relatively unencumbered and crowded by the masses.

We wandered the alleyways and streets and were rewarded with spectacular views – this was the classical Greek image of whitewashed houses clinging to the cliff face as they tumbled down to the sea, and the contrast of the brilliant blue of church domes sat atop classic white churches. This was the image you conjure up when you visualise a Greek village, and it did not disappoint. We stopped for breakfast in a taverna overlooking the white houses, blue domes, the sea and distant islands. The food was delicious, but we did have to pay for both the quality of the food and the quality of the view. As we sat and ate our Greek yogurt, there were only a couple of other customers, it was chilled and spectacular in equal measure.

We spent a couple of hours ambling along the pretty streets, but by 11 am any semblance of peace and tranquillity had evaporated into the hot air – the number over visitors had swelled and the chance of an uninterrupted view had vanished.

We decided we’d had enough, and fought our way through the thronging alleyways back to the bus stop and caught the bus to Thira – standing room only – and from there back to Kamara beach where, after lunch on our balcony, we spent the afternoon on the beach; I spent most of the time in the sea, as heavenly to me as the view of any blue domed church.

A Greek Odyssey – day 3

Strong winds, red sand and high seas

In bed last night, the victim of a losing battle between the (high) ambient air temperature and a too efficient air conditioning unit, I lay not quite shivering, but a little chilly, under my sheet listening to the wind howl and swirl outside our room – I could have been at home, in grey England in November. When morning came, I expected to see the balcony (and my towel and trunks left out to air) soaking wet but throwing back the shutters the sun streamed in, along with a glorious warmth, every thing was still intact, but the breeze could be described as “stiff” as I headed to the sea for my morning dip, mindful that I might have to be extra careful in the inevitable swell of the sea.

But as I reached the beach, the water was becalmed, millpond still and I swam out further and deeper in the crystal clear waters, the sandy bottom visible a long way beneath my feet. I found a spot to exit the water and scramble up the cliff face and have my first leap, then dive, into the water below. I remained a little confused as to why the strong wind – albeit blowing in a different direction from before – was not disturbing the surface of the sea, but I didn’t give it too much thought. A perfect start to another perfect day …

All roads lead to Rome Thira

The plan for the day was to explore the south of the island, and the Red Beach in particular, described as stunningly beautiful – red cliffs enclosing a beach of red (volcanic) sand. The excellent Santorini bus system is pretty simple – you can get to anywhere on the island, as long as you start in Thira, and pretty much every journey – whether two stops or twenty – will cost two euros. And they don’t hang about – the bus turns up, they corral and cajole you in, the doors close, and off you go. Dilly dally about and a helpful, but stern, bus conductor will chastise you and hurry you up. Once on route, the conductor comes round for your two euros, and helpfully shouts out the name of each location as you arrive at the stop. So first we got a bus up to Thira, then we got on another down to Akrotiri, the jumping off point for the red beach.

It was a 500m walk along a dead end road, and then a dusty, (slightly) difficult undulating track for another 500 m to the beach.

A number of rock falls had narrowed the beach, and we trekked to the far end to find a spot to park ourselves for the day.

The sea was rough, the red sand was baking under bare foot and whilst there was a rugged charm to the beach, I don’t think I’d describe it as beautiful. The rough seas and rocky foreshore made getting in and out of the sea tricky; I’m happy and confident in the water and quite enjoyed the odd breaker crashing down over my head, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take responsibility for anyone else in the water, and Becky wasn’t a fan, not going beyond knee deep depth, but still getting totally splashed and submerged. I’m glad we went, as I have now seen it (FOMO kicking in here) but if I’m honest, not the most beautiful Greek beach – one you could happily miss.

So we didn’t stay as long as we might and caught the bus back to Thira. As the road ascended towards the capital, we found ourselves in low cloud, with mist drifting across the landscape – not the sun kissed Greece we’ve come to know and love.

But back at base – Kamari beach – the sky was blue and the temperature high. We enjoyed an ice cream as we walked back to our apartment and then enjoyed the more tranquil waters of our pool under the late afternoon sunshine.

A Greek Odyssey – Day 1 & 2

Kalimera, Chaos, and Calm

I may lack the poetic prose of (the original) Homer, and my appearance and athleticism is perhaps closer to a latter day Homer (Simpson) than Adonis, but I do have EasyJet and Blue Star Ferries to make my epic somewhat easier, quicker and more comfortable than that of the ancients; our four week odyssey across the Cyclades began with an early morning flight from Bristol to Santorini. After a four hour flight, and a pleasantly swift passage through passport control, we emerged into the glorious Greek sunshine and headed for our accommodation in the resort of Kamari beach.

When we first decided (about a year ago!) that we wanted to spend the summer island hopping our way around Greece, Santorini was not one of the islands that made it into our top ten of where we wanted to go. Yes, we had been seduced by the stunning photos of blue domes sat atop brilliant whitewashed walls, all against a backdrop of shimmering blue sea or cloudless sky, but we had also seen the pictures behind the pictures and were conscious that Sanntorini had made it into many peoples top ten (or top two) islands to visit, and was likely to be heaving with tourists. I’m very conscious that as a tourist, I am also part of the problem, but overcrowding of many places in the Med is a very real problem.

So, given the above, what are we doing here in Santorini?

The answer is its airport. Having decided on travelling the Cyclades, from the UK (and, more specifically, Bristol) our options were limited to landing in Santorini or Mykonos, and Santorini won. So we landed here yesterday, on the first of July; a month later, in the last few minutes of 31st July, we fly back to Bristol from Athens having visited and stayed on a number of Greek islands.

(And if you are reading this for info and tips, we found it much cheaper to do it this way – fly out to Santorini and back from Athens – than if we did the trip in return. I think that this is because flights to and from Athens remain fairly stable in price, but flights to and from Santorini go up in price as the “season” becomes more established.)

So “kalimera” from Greece, and I shall try and document our travels – our odyssey – across some beautiful Greek islands.

Yesterday we did little, other than acclimatise – its hot, but a beautiful breeze is more than welcome – swim in the small, but perfect, pool at our apartment block (and I couldn’t resit a quick dip in the sea), eat our first delicious Greek meal (one of life’s toughest questions – which food is the best in the world: Greek or Italian?) and sleep after the oh too early start caught up with us.

This morning, on waking, I took myself back to the beach (less than 5 mins from my bed) and swam in the sea. There were a few other early morning bathers, but at times it did feel like I had the ocean to myself, the Aegean sea washing away my cares and worries as I bobbed in the crystal clear water, contemplating the expanse of infinity, bordered on one side by a sheer cliff face and stretching off into a distant horizon on another. Some people need alcohol, some use drugs (both prescription and illegal), some turn to religion, but I find true peace and tranquillity in the serenity of the sea. And all before breakfast …!

And what a treat breakfast was! Pastries and coffee fresh from a local bakery, with a little fruit on the side, sat on the balcony of our apartment, just watching the world go by.

I could have sat there forever, but adventure beckoned and we decided to head over to Thira, the capital of island, for a change of pace and scene. When we travel, we like to use public transport – its cheaper, greener, and (usually) less stressful than hiring a car, plus, with the latter, you remain in your own hermetically sealed bubble, “safe” from interactions with other people – but that denies you one of the joys of travelling, interacting with other people. (And if you remain to be convinced about meeting strangers when you travel, have a read of this post of an encounter between a Brit and a Kurd in Italy)

Arriving at the bus stop, it became clear that a number of others had had the idea – it was a long queue and when the bus arrived it became a bit of a free for all but, somehow, we all fitted in and off we headed for the 20 minute journey to Thira whilst the bus conductor fought his way through the bus to collect fares from everyone. A bit chaotic, but it worked and whilst I wouldn’t want this level of chaos in my day to day life, it adds to the charm of Greece, I love the juxtaposition of chaos and calm, moving from minutes of madness to total tranquillity in a few short steps.

We explored Thira – a beautiful town of whitewashed buildings, and blue domes, stunning vistas across the Caldera (the sea) dotted with islands and anchored cruise ships. It was clean, pretty, busy and we enjoyed the morning ambling along its streets, punctuated with a cool drink sat in a stunning, shaded cafe, enjoying the view and enjoying each other’s company. It is a town that is well looked after, and thriving on the tourist dollars that flow in every day, but it has retained its charm and resisted the “Disneyfication” that some other tourist hot spots have fallen for. (Dubrovnik and Rhodes old towns, I’m looking at you …)

We headed home on a slightly less crowded (but still full) bus (2 euros each, one way) and spent the late afternoon on the beach back here at Kamari, cooling of in the sea, and watching a group of local lads leap from the cliffs (my day will come …) The beach is famously black sand – but really more a car park grey gravel, lovely underfoot but not too pretty to look at. The water was blissful, the sun still strong so we sat under the shade of our umbrella and when we had had enough, we walked the three minutes back to our apartment, freshened up and strolled into town for another delicious (and enormous) meal in a Greek taverna.

Our odyssey has started well.