Saturday, May 29, 2010

Santorini Sunset

We arrived last night in Santorini after a long day of travel: disembarked from the QMII at 7.00 a.m. in Southampton; met our (very good, very efficient) driver at 7.45; and then arrived at Heathrow by 9.00. Strangely we ran into little traffic. Our late morning flight to Athens left right on time and Aegean Airlines did a nice job: the new Airbus was immaculate, and we were served a tasty lunch and wine on the 3-hour flight to Athens. Always I am shocked when I fly in Europe. To be given lunch is sufficiently impressive but lunch and wine? I'm lucky if I get a bag of pretzels flying coast to coast in the U.S. Our connection to Santorini also went smoothly, although we were both very tired by the time we got to our hotel.

Our accommodations aren't quite what we hoped for: I suppose the best that can be said is that the Hotel Galini is clean. The bed is rock hard and the room cramped and charmless. We don't even have a chest of drawers for clothes, most of which remain in our suitcases. When we booked, we did not realize that most hotels on Santorini have swimming pools, a luxury we would have appreciated on this unseasonably hot Saturday after hours of tramping around in the Greek sun. Ah well.

I like Santorini very much, but the photos one sees of the famous caldera, with white-washed houses perched on the hillside, are somewhat misleading. Yes, the view from our balcony is spectacular, and seeing the sun sink into the sea tonight from Oia was just as breathtaking as everyone says. The cliffs around the rim of the caldera secure Santorini's claim to fame; the rest of the island, though, is scrubby, arid, and visually uninteresting. We booked four days here; two would probably have been enough.

We took a bus tour today, which turned out to be longer (nearly six hours!) and more challenging physically than we expected. The buses are very modern and well maintained; the driver was a solid citizen, a far cry from the stories one hears, and our guide, a young man in his twenties, was solicitous if not terribly well informed. He tried hard, though. We made several stops, which included a traditional Greek village, a Venetian fortress, and the oldest church on the island. All were interesting but entailed long hikes up many, many hills and stairs. I prided myself on sprinting up the first two destinations; by the fourth, I was dragging, a victim of the unforgiving Greek sun and swelling feet. Still, I fared better than most. Two Ecuadorian women groaned with each step up the fortress, stopping frequently to mop their brows and confirm the temperature ("treinte-tres grados?!"), as if this repetitive exclamation would somehow alter the stifling reality. We ended up at Oia, turned loose for two hours to find water and/or sustenance before claiming a spot to watch the famous sunset. Then, at 8.30 p.m., we all staggered back to the bus for the ride home.

We had thought about attempting the ruins of ancient Thera tomorrow, but after reading about the difficulty in accessing them, we are considering a lazier option, perhaps a morning at the beach and an afternoon at one of the local museums.

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