Santorini (Ancient Thera), Greece
The Sea Cloud had remained at anchor throughout the night...the last light of day had been a huge red-orange sun dipping into the heavy, haze of moisture hanging over the sea and extremely visible on the horizon. The evening breeze dropped and all around the Sea Cloud we could see the lights of the communities which are located, largely on the crests of the islands that make up a circular archipelago of islands...all remnants of one of the most famous volcanic explosions in Mediterranean history. This cataclysmic eruption buried the sophisticated civilization based in the village of Akrotiri located on the southern end of the island of Santorini. The caldera created by this enormous eruption is 76 square kilometers and the Sea Cloud was anchored overnight near the center of the caldera close to the emerging islands of Nea and Pelea Kameni.
Just after 7:00am the sun rose in the east and the warming sunlight started its effect on the night’s mists...clouds of moisture rose up and around Santorini adding to the eerie effect of extremely steep volcanic cliffs shrouded in morning mists, pierced by the strong sunlight of the Mediterranean.
At 8:15 am a local tender arrived at the Sea Cloud ready to ferry us to shore to the port town of Athinios where we boarded two busses and began the climb up to the crest of Santorini, heading to the north end of the crescent shaped island and the small town of Oia. All along the ride we were close to the colors of fire, reminding us all of the violent geologic history of the islands of Santorini; the most southern of the Cycladic islands.
We were dropped off near the main square of Oia, where our two guides began a short orientation of one of the most photographed villages in all of Greece! Our first stop was at a point where we could see five classic blue domes on Orthodox churches; surrounded by a myriad of pastel colored houses, along with the classic blue and white of Cycladic architecture. A backdrop of the island of Therasia lay to the north, layered in the colors of fire we had been seeing all morning. During the next few hours we had a chance to wander the small alleys and lanes; trying to lose ourselves in the domed and vaulted houses so well known in Oia...soon, many of dipped into a few shops, enjoying the many well-known treasures of Greek design in clothing, jewelry and a most delicious Greek coffee...sitting quietly in a cafe that just so happened to face out into the Aegean’s sparkling early morning blue...Lawrence Durrell once wrote of Santorini’s cliffs:
“And then the cliffs, which rear up with their ravaged-looking ghost town on the crest---where has one ever seen such colors, seen rock twisted up like barley-sugar, convoluted and colored so fancifully. They remind one of the oil marbling on the endpapers of Victorian ledgers. Mauve, green, putty, grey, yellow, scarlet, cobalt...every shade of heat from that of pure molten rock to the metamorphic limestone cooling back into white ash. And off the crest, like the manes of horses, little spurts of white ash drift into the bay from the silent white houses. Sunset and sunrise here put poets out of work.”
As the day began to warm, we returned to our waiting buses and traveled along another scenic route towards the center of the island and the small town of Pirgos and a local restaurant called Kallisti. We were treated to traditional dishes prepared on Santorini and a collection of “mezedes” or small plates, lovely and varied and enough to give us a wonderful taste of Mediterranean cuisine. Excellent wines produced on Santorini accompanied our small plates of appetizers and a traditional Greek desert and coffee finished a wonderfully relaxed middle-day meal.
Leaving Pirgos, we traveled slightly south to the principle town of Thira. A visit to the Archaeology museum with many artifacts from the Minoan town of Akrotiri were on display...adding to the history brought to life by our two Greek guides. From the museum we did have to make our way through the densely packed jewelry, clothing and souvenir shops...heading towards the cable car, our only way back down to the port and eventually a local tender that would return us all to the Sea Cloud. Many of our group took a moment to relax in a cafe, watching the stream of tourists make their way up and down the narrow alleys of Thira...remembering we would soon return to the Queen of Tall Ships, her quiet decks and cabins...just in time to finish the day with a swim in the caldera of Santorini just before sunset. Another full and rich day ending wonderfully, as we continued to explore the Cycladic Islands of Greece in one of the world’s most beautiful square rigged ships.