Santorini: the Icing on the Greek Cake

IMG_2406We tore ourselves away from our lovely little hotel in Naxos (pronounced Nachos) with its blue and white veranda, where we had fresh orange juice and coffee by the pool. And stood in line like cattle with hundreds of other tourists waiting for the Blue Star ferry to take us to Santorini.

These ferries are comfortable with nice sitting areas, restaurants and floor to ceiling windows. Why is the water here so blue compared to the grey waters of our Pacific? Is it simply the reflection of the sky? When I google for this, I am told it is because the Aegean Sea does not support algae growth… Interesting.

Greece_GRE.aiThe 3 hour ferry ride took us to the the island of Santorini. The crescent shape island is part of a circular chain that, together, used to form the round top of a volcano until, some 3,000 years ago, the top blew, the crater edge was formed and the crater itself filled with the sea.

Now the island rises sharply out of the sea. Picture 2/3 of a bundt cake, 1/3 cut away and crumbled up, cinnamon coloured. Then picture white icing dripping over the top and edges. That is Santorini. The white icing is a thick layer of Greek adobe style houses, walkways and churches, all desperately clinging to the edge or else they’d tumble into the sea on either side. 

We had seen Oia’s (pronounced E-Ah, like the call of the donkeys you can ride here) sunset walk on documentaries but it was pretty awesome to walk there in person. The walk way is narrow, slippery marble and lined with souvenir shops. We ignored the tourists and drank in the amazing views of steep rocky cliffs straight down to the sea.

IMG_2436We had coffee overlooking the blue sea on both sides with the iconic white churches with their blue domes along the path. I noticed a lovely little hotel right there along the sunset walk. When I googled it later I found out that rooms there start at 800 euros a night. Holy… who stays there? We are very happy with our little hotel with a blue pool and tiny kitchen. At a fraction of that cost!

The best part is that our room, booked through AirBnB came with a free car. Usually, I don’t trust that word “free” but when I checked prices of nearby rooms without a car they were indeed about the same price. It’s wonderful to have a car here since there’s quite a bit to explore. We drove to Oia on the opposite side of the island and explored some back roads. Kees bravely turned left when I suggested it, plunging down a narrow, winding road that brought us down to the east side of Santorini. Low and behold we found our way back to the town of Perissa where we stay, via a nice supermarket. 

We walked a stoney path to a small blue and white Greek restaurant and savoured every moment on the patio as the sun set and Greek guitar music played. The steep hillside has twinkling lights along a path that leads to a tiny white chapel carved into the rock. I feel like Meryl Streep will come around the corner any moment, singing Mama Mia!

IMG_2443Santorini is half the size of Salt Spring Island where we live. But, according to the statistics I can find, it has 125,000 permanent residents and up to 2 million visitors per year (in 2014). Salt Spring has slightly more than 10,000 people and does host a fair number of tourists but not nearly that of Santorini. We often feel that the island “is full” in summer when traffic glogs the main roads, the market it crowded and there are not enough accommodations for all the visitors. No wonder then that Santorini is really coping with huge problems. There is not enough water, the roads are full of potholes and overnight places are at a premium (I heard about houses on the caldera going for 5000 euros a night – who would pay that?!).

There are small metal signs attached to shops and homes that says “You are visiting here but we live here, please respect our privacy and property”. I sure hope it won’t come to that on Salt Spring but perhaps it is time to look at how similar tourist attractions cope. According to recent headlines “Amsterdam is now actively discouraging tourism”. There might be lessons learned there about promoting places to visit, no matter how difficult that might be if you only focus on the money to be made.

IMG_2430Leaving Santorini, we took the Sea Jet ferry. Blue Star Ferries was a lot nicer, with space to walk and nice sitting areas. Sea Jet is much like an airplane, with assigned seats and no place to walk. It was a long 6 hour journey back to Athens. All of the islands along the way looked identical: brown barren rock, almost no vegetation and very dry. I’m sure there are more beautiful islands in northern Greece. We did enjoy coming here and seeing the sites but all in all I had pictured Greek islands very differently from what we saw: interesting history, lovely people, great climate but dry and rocky, no shade and barren rock.

Our hotel on Naxos:  


For my illustrator friends: this is believed to be the first piece of art ever to be signed by an artist.


How do you operate a washing machine in Greek?!

All photos ©margrietruurs