Following our visit to Meteora, the kids and I had wake super early to catch our ferry ride out to Santorini. I booked a room on the ferry, and I’m so very glad I did. We were exhausted after getting into Athena so late, hadn’t even showered after hiking the last two days, and needed a comfy quiet rest. We had even slept in our clothes at the cheapo hotel I booked us near the port at Piraeus.
When my alarm went off, the kids dutifully got up to brush teeth, don their backpacks and trudged the one block to the ferry. Blue Star Ferry Delos. It’s huge, nearly cruise ship size huge, though mostly occupied with car decks. The top 3 decks, however, are for passengers and include many lounges and seats and restaurants to hang out in. I prebooked, so ticket pickup at the adjacent window was simple and we boarded the boat, glassy eyed, but excited.
Our room was perfect. Just like a cruise ship room with two lower beds and two uppers that fold down. There was a little desk and mirror and a spiffy clean and sizeable bathroom with a shower. It looked so nice! We crashed; Zoe and I were promptly sleeping, but Avi stayed awake and took pictures out the window during departure. Then we all snoozed for a few hours. I know the joy of taking a ferry in Greece is watching islands roll past, but we were so tired and this was a 7 hour ride with a few stops along the way.
When we woke, we all took an amazing shower and then explored the boat. It was fun to watch us pull into Paros and Naxos, it was fun to feel the wind and it was nice to escape back to our room and watch from our window. The relaxation is just what we needed after our big hiking days. When it was time to roll into Santorini, we watched from the deck. The kids were so excited to see the caldera at the center and the ashen island where the volcano has still smoked and spewed through time. I was surprised to see how large the island really is! I was thinking it was smaller, but there were 3 cruise boats parked inside the caldera and they were dwarfed by the gigantic cliffs and size of the inner lagoon.
Our ferry didn’t dock at Fira with the cruise boats, thank goodness, but instead pulled up alongside the ferry terminal a ways down the island. I had booked a rental car, but when we disembarked it was tough to find our guy as the place was so incredibly crowded. Eventually, though, we found him. I paid cash and signed the very short very not-inclusive-of-details contract and we loaded into our little Micra missing the hubcaps. Zoe dubbed it, “The Bug”. We were off! Or so I thought. We were actually in traffic winding up the switchback single lane road that leads from the ferry port at the base of the dry cliff to the top. It took almost an hour of stop and start up hill traffic, and remember, rentals in Europe are nearly always stick shift… especially at $25 a day on a Greek island…so it was a fun test of my skills. We drove around a bit to explore and scope out the ‘other’ black sand beach town of Perissa before descending into our town of Kamari.
Our hotelier wasn’t so sure about us when I walked in with two kiddos and a king size room reservation, but I assured him we all usually slept together. Later, upon checkout he gave my kids the greatest compliment, “I was worried you would be trouble, but you are very very good children.” And they are! Our room was great. A little blue-painted place with a great balcony opening to a Mediterranean view. Kamari town isn’t known for views as it’s on the east side of Santorini – the side that slopes into the Sea, not the Caldera views and clifftops. But the Villa Annetta was up hill a bit out of the hustle of downtown, with lovely views and a super nice resident kitty we called Fat Cat.
We had three days in Santorini and mostly occupied them at various beaches, with a few exceptions. The island is shaped like a wonky crescent moon – the inside of the curve where a volcano blew out the center of the a full circle sometime in the 1600 BC timeframe. If there had been a large Minoan city at the center, it sank giving rise to the myth of Atlantis. There was a sizeable port town called Akrotiri at the south edge of the island, and it was one of the first places we visited. It seems that, unlike the residents of Pompeii, the people of Akrotiri took head of volcanic signs and evacuated to their Minoan capital in Crete. The caretakers at the archaeology sight said they’ve only found a pig entombed in the pumice at the town. It was a large place to go see, and super interesting. Avi, especially, loved it as he is my little volcanologist. He liked seeing the layers of pumice left alongside the excavated sections and noticing the layers. Zoe was focused on figuring out how the buildings were used, and pointing out the cool daily objects like murals and pots and grindstones. Heck, these folks even had indoor plumbing.
Later, we drove to the red beach – a beach at the base of a crumbling red cliff, where we spent hours. I even got hit with some crumble at one point; enough to give me a bloody scratch. The sand here was softer than elsewhere on the island and quite enjoyable. The sun was intense, so I slathered the kids and myself but still I got a bit of burn on my thighs. We found the white beach, as well, though the sand was quite course so we didn’t stay long. We drove out to the southern tip of the island to see the view and the lighthouse and pretend we could spot Crete – it’s 60km south.
Another day we joined the throngs of other tourists at the north end of the crescent; we wandered the cool cliff edge alleys with views into the caldera – the center of the crescent where you can see a small ashen island that still occasionally smokes (not while we were here). There is also another smaller island on the other side that would have ‘finished’ the full circle out a bit; a relic of an entire circular island that imploded. In Thira town we stopped for souvlaki. I believe we’ve eaten souvlaki daily and can’t seem to tire of it. We then drove a beautifully scenic route to Oia town on the northern tip. This is where blue-domed roof pictures are taken and put on every Greece tourist postcard and poster around the world. It’s crowded. Apparently its a ‘thing’ to watch the sunset from here with your new thousands of friends crowded into what were, only an hour prior, adorable little streets. We had fun wandering around for a while until the sunset crowd started pouring in and obnoxious would-be amateur photographers got pretty rude; somehow having a big fancy looking camera gives you the right to step across fenced borders onto peoples roofs and shove little kids out of the way for the perfect shot. Drives me nuts. If you were reporting for AP, perhaps you can take some steps, but I despise this new class of camera toting tourist who seem to think their big Nikon gives them the same authority. They are, dare I say, worse than the giant groups of Asian people – at least they are just trying to get group shots and not going out of bounds. I digress…..
I got some of my own nice pictures – quickly, and with a point and shoot without making people move out of my way – before we happily got out of there. Oia has a nice little city park near the east end where we took a breather and the kids climbed trees. We watched the sunset, alone save from some donkeys, along a dusty stretch of road just a km out of Oia on our way back to Kamari.
The east side of the island is a fun section to explore. It’s rural and slopes gently into the sea. We found a nearly empty beach one afternoon, nice and wide with soft sand and shallow water. It was lovely, but near the desalination plant so not so scenic. Good for us, though.
Kamari town was a fun place to be. The beach was nice. The black sand wasn’t super soft, but it went in layers down to the surf – alternating black pebbles with the rough sand. Pebbles are much easier to sit and relax upon. One day the kids, well Zoe, had this idea that she was going to make a raft (we have been reading the Odyssey on this trip), and she spotted a square piece of paneling in an abandoned lot. So, she enlisted Avi’s help and they tried to carry it, but it was so heavy we had to stuff it in the car and roll down hill a block or so to the beach. It was quite telling how small this car was that a quarter piece of plywood would only fit with a lot of trouble. They spent all morning trying to float on that thing! In the end, Avi gave up, and Zoe was able to sit upon it for a bit. We deposited it in a nearby dumpster.
Kamari has a nice walking street with cafe’s and shops right along the beach, and we ate at one for dinner one evening, choosing the big mix plate so we could taste it all…. fish, meat, veggies, the lot. It’s pricier along the water, but we have been eating from the grocery and little souvlaki shops so a nice meal out was in order. The town also has some super nice cats and dogs; one pup even followed us around for a while after getting some of our leftovers. He was a cutey. Kamari also had some nice souvenir shops where both kids spent hours choosing how to spent the last of their money. I gave them each 10 Euro for the whole trip, and they have bought something small in all three places. Avi ended up with a snowglobe of the volcano and Zoe got a little blue domed house knickknack.
On our final day, our flight left around noon so we had the morning to spend (without getting sandy) so we stopped in at the Wine Museum and found it way more interesting than expected. The whole place is underground in the old maze-like wine cellar of a local family. It is full of life-size dioramas tucked into alcoves. We were given an audio device that told us in English what we were to be learning. The kids had fun finding the next one alone the corridors, and pushing the numbers on the translator. There was always something new, something lit up, or something moving in an animatronic way that kept their interest as we learned about the history of winemaking from one family’s perspective, here on Santorini. We learned that the grapes here grow low to the ground, so they trip the vines into a nest shape so the grapes can grow in the moist, shady center. We learned that they still use all those donkeys we see to help bring grapes in from the harvest. It was fascinating and fun!
Then we went to the airport, parked the car ‘anywhere’ and left the keys in the visor as instructed, and walked into chaos. This airport is tiny and we apparently picked the slowest of the three lines to check in for our Meridiana flight to Rome. We were there with ample time, but ended up checking in second to last and walked through security just in time to board. It was fine as the boarding area is just a single giant room with little seating. No stress, though, as the line to board was long. Off to Rome for the afternoon before flying home.