Picture of kameni Santorini, known locally as 'Thira', is considerably different from the other Cyclades. Once a solid circular island, some three to four thousand years ago the center of the island exploded in an enormous volcanic eruption. The resulting land was ring-shaped with two small breaks. The sea rushed in to fill the new caldera in the center and the resulting tidal wave is likely responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilization on nearby Crete. Today, Santorini consists of two facing crescent shaped islands: Thira and Thirassia. In the 18th century, volcanic activity produced a couple new islands in the center of the caldera, Nea and Paleo Kameni. The Kameni islands are shown in this photo with one of the two openings between Thira (left) and Thirassia (right) in the background. The small island visible past Thira is Aspronissi. Today, only Thira and Thirassia are inhabited.
Picture of stairway The airport is located on the fertile but small plain on the outside of the main island. As a result we had not yet seen the caldera when the taxi dropped us off on the edge of Fira, the capital city. Fira is mostly built vertically in layers and car-bearing roads are not possible. The streets in the city are similar to those in Mykonos except three-dimensional. Some of the streets are in fact nothing but long staircases. The city is perched atop the cliff and hangs over towards the caldera. Far below at the water is a small port where boats leave for other stops around the island. This is the staircase leading down to that port. Behind it, the six white spheres are the cable cars for those not willing to brave the more than 600 stairs. Alternately, mules are available for the trip up and down.
Picture of dog From the balcony of nearly every home and business in Fira you can look down at the roof of a building one street down and up at the balcony of the next street up. The receptionist at our hotel led us to our room, which turned out be quite necessary as it was about 6 levels down from the front office. This on top of the fact that the hotel was about 3 levels down from the main street made us think twice about leaving the room frivolously. 120 stairs up to the main road can do that. Like everywhere else in Greece, Fira is strewn with stray dogs and cats. However, given the topography of the city, they don't tend to be afraid of heights, like this one resting on a lintel.
Picture of fira2 The first afternoon there we spent mostly sitting on the balcony of our hotel room admiring the view. Not that it really matters, we were behind the big red building, near the bottom of the town. The room was a bit more expensive than most we stayed in while in Greece, but there was never any hesitation once we saw the place. If you have to pick one spot in Greece to splurge a little on hotels, it should almost certainly be Santorini. That evening we went up to the main square and ate at an interesting little cafe with a techno dance club style decor.
Picture of dome We returned to the hotel after dinner, it was starting to get rather windy and a bit chilly as well. The next morning we woke up to find the winds had gotten rather extreme. It also contained a fine dusty sand which we later learned to be a standard part of the Sirocco -- a hot dry wind which blows north from the Sahara desert into Mediterranean Europe. Not many people were out in Fira, probably because they had better sense than us. We started out towards the south, but found we were unable to get very far as we couldn't keep our eyes open in that direction without having them sandblasted. This worked out alright though, most of the city was north of us.
Picture of alley As we turned to follow the alleyways to the north we were joined by a couple of playful dogs who seemed overjoyed to find other living creatures in the streets of Fira. They started following us, roaming ahead or behind, sometimes disappearing altogether to reappear a few blocks farther down. We named them Pano and Kato ('up' and 'down') after their tendencies to run along the narrow stucco walls separating the road from the cliffs. Melanie claims to be able to distinguish which is which, so email her if you really want to know. It turns out they followed us for close to three hours, past the end of town and then all the way back. We also learned in the process that they were not in fact even strays, they were just allowed to run free during the day. Along with a tendency to wander into open-air stores and restaurants (which is all of them in Greece), they also came across an empty one liter water bottle which they managed to play with for a very cacophonous half an hour until some bystander took it away.
Picture of dogs Incidentally, this photo was not pre-arranged or set up in any fashion - it just sort of happened. For the most part, there were no people along the cliff face roads. On the more sheltered streets some of the shops had opened. Of course, it was also still well before the main tourist season and just barely on the edge of the shoulder season. Most of the famous night clubs were in the process of repainting, refurnishing and so on. Also many of the hotels were still closed for the off-season, and the so-called 'infinity pools' which are filled to the very edge for dramatic Conde Nast photos were altogether empty.
Picture of doggate The wind left us with palpable amounts of sand in our hair, our ears, our clothing, pretty much everywhere there could be sand. They also wreaked havoc on Pano's ears, and the airline and ferry schedules as well. All trips out to the Kameni volcanic islands were cancelled for the day, all inter-island ferries were cancelled, and all flights out of Santorini's airport were cancelled as well. We learned this at lunch when Randy and Bev happened to reappear at the restaurant we were eating at. They had planned to leave that afternoon but would end up once again on our flight the next day. Incidentally, the Poseidon Restaurant (and there is a Poseidon Restaurant in every city in Greece) just off the main square in Fira has the best stuffed bifteki in the entire world as far as we can tell. Bifteki is generally two thin steaks with a variety of ingredients in between them, in this case feta, tomatoes, onion, peppers, proscuitto, and olive oil.
Picture of road
Picture of firahill
Picture of oia Given the cancellation of just about all public transportation except buses, we decided to spend the afternoon taking a bus. The next bus from Fira was heading to Oia (EE-ah) and thus, so were we. Oia, seen here from Fira is a small town on the north end of the island even more precariously balanced than Fira is. It is known for its sunsets and during the tourist season, most of the population of Santorini flocks to Oia for a couple hours every evening. After further review, we turned out to have just missed the bus to Oia, but there was one returning later that day which is more than we could say for the buses headed to some of the black sand beaches and Akrotiri, the archeological site on the island. So we took a taxi to Oia some seven miles away down a road that many self respecting goats would refuse to travel on. I can only say that I'm glad I wasn't driving.
Picture of tx_airline

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