Santorini

Santorini, Greece

After spending May Day in Athens, we hopped on a small plane and flew the short distance to the island of Santorini. 

Santorini is a unique island and although I enjoyed our vacation there, it’s not a destination that I would return to. The island doesn’t have much to offer with the exception of the cave houses of Oia. In all honesty, two nights in Santorini will get the job done.

We stayed in a cave house in Oia for five nights. Santorini is a small island that is shaped like a half-moon and it takes a very long time to get from the northwest of the island where Oia is located to the southeastern shore where the “beaches” are located. More on that in a bit. 

Santorini is what remains of a single island that was blown to bits after an enormous volcanic explosion. This explosion created the present-day caldera (the area that the half-moon is “hugging”).

View of the caldera from Oia

Oia, Santorini

The village of Oia is located on the caldera side of the island. The views are beautiful but damn it was hot! Many articles have been written about the sunset from Oia being one of the best in the world. I’m not sold on this statement – a sunset is a sunset but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from all over the world from flocking to Oia to experience the famed sunset, ourselves included.

View of the caldera from the terrace of our cave house

The downside of being on the caldera side of the island is that the temperatures were always about 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than on the non-caldera side. This is because the area inside of the caldera is protected by its shape. There was never any wind in Oia, not even a light breeze, and the sun was strong and bright from sunrise to sunset. 

As mentioned previously, we stayed in a traditional cave house that was tucked into the cliffside, about halfway between the top of the cliff and sea level. Logistically, it was a challenging location. The steep steps were composed of slippery marble slabs and loose rock.

It didn’t take long before I learned that flip-flops were a poor choice of footwear, not only for Oia but for the entire island. The terrain of the island is a little rough around the edges. It’s volcanic after all.

We spent one very hot afternoon being tourists in Oia and that was more than enough to know we would not be doing it again. The village had become overrun with tourists from a cruise ship that had docked at the port in Fira. And the temperatures, ugh, they were unbearable. 

Here are a few photos I snapped in Oia during our afternoon walkabout.

On the other days of our vacation, we hopped on our motorbike and visited various beaches on the island. Let’s talk about motorbikes for a minute. 

Transportation

Everyone told us to rent a scooter. They said, “It will be easy to park! It will make getting around the island much easier!”

Yes, parking was easy but we did not have a good experience with our motorbike.

Note: For the purpose of this post, I’m defining a scooter as a small motorized bike (i.e. Vespa) and a motorbike as a full-size motorcycle.

Before arriving at the rental shop, we agreed that we would rent two scooters, not one motorbike, however, it seemed laws had changed (or were now being enforced) and Peter was not able to rent a scooter because he did not have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to compliment his USA driving license. 

Protip: Quads (aka four-wheelers) do not require an IDP when renting on a USA driving license, which explained why there were more quads than motorbikes and scooters on the island.

Peter was denied a scooter rental by three different companies and we were left with me renting a motorbike on my UK driving license which did not require an IDP. 

This meant that all of our beach gear and both of our bodies had to be loaded onto the motorbike. It also meant that I was the only permitted driver.

If we rented a scooter (i.e. Vespa), I think we would have managed with me as the sole driver because a scooter is smaller and lighter. It’s easier to keep the balance, etc. But managing a full-size motorbike for the first time in my life and with a passenger? No, it just was not going to work.

Between the weight of the motorbike, my lack of upper body strength, and having Peter as a passenger, it was nearly impossible for me to turn right or left; riding straight was no problem. 

I did not have enough strength and body weight to tilt the motorbike to turn corners. Peter became the driver beginning on our second day, even though he was not legally permitted to drive the motorbike. The motorbike experience was awful and if we were to do it again, we’d rent a Smart car so that we could easily pack ourselves and our stuff into the car and leave items in the car when we’re at the beach, a winery, a restaurant, etc. 

Note: We visited Santorini in early May (low season) when there were few tourists on the island (read: plenty of parking available, roads mostly empty, etc.). I imagine that renting a car in the high tourist season would be a complete nightmare.

Beaches

Santorini is known for its unique beaches. Santorini is a volcanic island and its beaches are very hot and very rocky. We categorized the beaches into three categories: white, black, and red. 

We spent three of our days in Perissa and Kamari. Both of these beach resorts are located on the southeast shore of the island. 

We preferred Perissa to Kamari because Kamari is located south of the airport and plane arrivals/departures were noisy.

The small black pebbles of the beaches burnt our feet! 

One afternoon, we visited Akrotiri to see the famous red beach. Truth be told, neither of us had a genuine interest in seeing the red beach but felt as though we had to see it because that’s just one of those things you do in Santorini, like flocking to Oia to watch the sunset.

Access to the red beach is via a short hike over a giant boulder “wall” and then down a cliff. The ground, boulders, and cliff walls are crumbly. I lost my balance when climbing down the cliff wall and reached for a “rock” on the wall and when I grabbed it, it crumbled to sand and I fell on my butt.

After 15 minutes of hiking, we reached the beach. It was a beach of pumice stones. 

I was disappointed when we reached the beach because it was full of litter. We learned later that the litter is not typically left behind by visitors. It is litter from Egypt that is swept ashore when the ocean/sea current is just right.

We stayed at the red beach for about five minutes and then hiked backed to our motorbike. From there, we drove to Boutari Winery to pick up a bottle of wine for Greek Easter which was the following day. 

Boutari Winery

We arrived at the winery and parked the motorbike near the entrance. It seemed oddly quiet for a Saturday afternoon.

We climbed off of the motorbike and walked to the entrance to find a closed and locked door. We looked around for a couple of minutes, trying to locate another entrance (or a human) and during those few minutes, someone closed and locked the security gate to the property.

We, and our motorbike, had become locked inside the perimeter of the winery and we could not see or hear any other humans. 

We called Boutari Winery but no one answered. I then called the police. The conversation went like this:

Ring, ring ring.

Automated message: Έχετε φτάσει το Θήρας αστυνομικό τμήμα. Πατήστε ένα για τα Ελληνικά, press two for English.

…2…

Police: Hello, Thira police. How can I be of assistance?

Me: My husband and I are locked inside the Boutari Winery property.

Police: You are locked in the winery?

Me: Yes. We drove into the parking lot of the winery and while we were walking to the building entrance, someone closed the security gate. We are now locked inside the property. 

Police: Oh, well, hmm, that’s interesting. 

Me: Yes, it’s interesting and unfortunate.

Police: Are you in the blah region?

Me: I do not know. I am at Boutari Winery located near Akrotiri.

Police: Let me see what I can do. 

Me: OK. Do you have my phone number? Are you going to call me back?

Police: No.

Click.

We were left wondering what, if anything, was going to happen.

I turned my attention to Plan B. I started emailing every email address I could find for Boutari Winery. I received a response to my email three days later. We corresponded back and forth, laughing about the incident. 

While I was emailing, Peter had hopped over the security gate and walked down the road to a small shop to ask if anyone knew the person, or persons, who could open the gate. 

He was defeated in his efforts. By the time Peter arrived back at the winery, I had come up with plan D (plan C was Peter’s trip to the local shop).

Earlier in the week, I’d been in contact with a Santorini wine tour company. We were not able to book a tour with her because she was fully booked but I knew that she had winery connections. I called her and left a message. 

She called back about 10 minutes later and told me that she had contacted so-and-so and while sp-and-so won’t have the keys, so-and-so will know who does and she would work with so-and-so to send someone to our rescue. 

While I was on the phone with her, a somewhat angry-looking man arrived on a scooter (secretly jealous of his scooter) and unlocked the gate for us.

The total time from my call to the police to the arrival of our Greek angel was just under an hour – very fast considering it was after business hours on a Saturday and the following day was a holiday. 

Greek Easter

Greek Easter was like every other day for us in Santorini. We ate breakfast at our cave house and then drove to the beach. This beach visit was, however, slightly different than the others. It is a tradition on Greek Easter to roast a lamb and eat it with fried potatoes (aka fries). Honestly, I don’t know how this meal is any different than any other roasted lamb/fries meal in Greece but whatever. 

There were a handful of lambs roasting on the beach and they smelled delicious. I wanted to try some but I wasn’t going to invite myself over to the small, private family lamb picnics. 

Instead, I would lay on my beach loungers, drinking my beer, and hoping to get invited. And it happened!

A Greek man summoned me over to join his family party. So I did. 

I walked over in my swimsuit and bare feet and devoured some lamb that they had just pulled off of the spit. The family then gestured for me to take some lamb to Peter, which I happily did. It was delicious. 

That evening, we enjoyed the booms of homemade fireworks which were launched behind the case houses of Oia. I hate fireworks. I wish for them to be outlawed.

We departed for England the following morning and, honestly, I was ready for the cooler temperatures and no motorbiking.

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