Aww, Greece! It's one of those image conjuring names, whose very utterance summons up a thousand images, like a face launching a thousand ships, 300 men facing the might of 30000, beautiful white washed houses, stunning Mediterranean sunsets, sleazy bearded Greek men chasing drunken British teens on their first holidays, and of course, some obligatory plate smashing. I had always fancied, like millions of others, a summer spent island hopping, viewing the ruins of Europe's oldest advanced civilization, drinking Ouzo and sunning on some of the worlds finest beaches. Luckily John had always fancied something similar, so as John searched for Christmas present inspiration in November 2008, he was chuffed to come across an introductory offer on flights from London to Santorini, which is widely held as the most beautiful of all the Greek isles.
The flight was not overly horrendous, and we flew over the island of Santorini for the first time in good spirits, enjoying the panoramic view the planes landing afforded us. First impressions were that this place was hot! The whole landscape had only the lightest splashes of green, the countryside instead being bathed in a brown glow, as the suns heat created distorted waves that rose from all areas that were devoid of shade. We jumped on the small coach that was to take us to our hotel, which was on the opposite side to the main town of Santorini, Fira. The roads were filled with buses, quad bikes and scooters, as tourists and locals shared the small roads in a borderline hostile manner.
We were soon at our accommodation, or so we thought, only to find ourselves hiking across the road to a sister block of apartments. The room was just that, a very basic, simple room, that seemed as stale and parched as the land around it. It did, in its favour, have a fridge and a fan, which are the only real requirements in a climate of 35'C plus each day. We did a brief recce after off loading our baggage, strolling to the main road that straddles Perissa beach, the largest beach of our side of the island. The beach was made of fine black volcanic pebbles, small enough to be relatively comfortable, but nothing like the fine white sands of Thai or Caribbean beach. It was also incredibly hot, its dark nature attracting and retaining the searing sun so that the only way to get across it was with footwear on.
This probably doesn't sound too appealing but the volcanic nature of the island also provides the amazing views that make it worth visiting, so its swings and roundabouts. The beach was littered with sun worshippers, and every so often a board walk leads out to a clutter of sunbeds, most with large umbrellas offering some respite from the endless sun. Bronzed owners stand by them, waist bag strapped tight as they wander their patch ready to pounce on the weather weary. We surveyed our patch for a short while before taking a walk along the road adjacent the beach, which was littered with bars and restaurants and rental shops offering transport means. We found a supermarket, the best friend of any experienced traveller, and stocked up on fruit, soft drinks and other dietary essentials, well aware that to buy these from the bars or restaurants we would be eating in would add a huge sum to our holiday expenses.
This might sound tight to 'holidaymakers', but anyone who has travelled in excess of a few months will know its the difference between staying an extra month or not. Stocked up and knackered from the travelling, we headed back to our room to get some sleep, and prepare for our first full day.
Day one was spent on the beach, as we tried to swap our pasty white exteriors for a much more attractive shade of brown. We had a tasty dinner at one of the beach side bars, which gave us access to their shaded sunbeds with table service for drinks, so it was a good start to our holiday! Fira and its views would have to wait until another day. We swatted up on our local knowledge, consulting our guide books and plotting the days ahead.
As soon as were up on day two we headed to a rental shop, and decided to rent a quad bike so that we could explore the island. We set off for Fira first, the journey taking 45 minutes of hair raising driving driving along country roads. The quad was easy enough to drive and relatively comfortable, and so the journey was enjoyable in itself, and as we turned a corner for our first sight of the caldera that surrounds and makes up Santorini, we were feeling elated and very glad we had made Greece this years main destination. The island is, of course, the upper peaks of a gigantic caldera, which is the rim of a volcano, and it traces a roughly ellipse shape around us. The centre of the volcano collapsed long ago in a volcanic eruption that would have been heard around the world, the geologists say, and many attribute that eruption to the legend of Atlantis, as the island dwellers on top were living in a veritable paradise that sank beneath the waves.
People eventually returned, and towns sprang up around the now submerged volcano centre, but steam occasionally rising from the centre reminds people that the volcano's work may not be done. All this means one thing though, and that is that the views from Fira are quiet possible the most stunning in the world. I have had the good fortune to have seen the Grand Canyon, Sydney Harbour, Thailand's islands and beaches, Hong Kong's skyline, China's great wall, Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Las Vegas's strip, Australia's Whitsunday's and the glorious view of Swansea Bay from my parent's gaff among others, but you'll struggle to find a view to beat that offered by Fira. Its central location on the perch of the cliffs of the caldera means the houses are built in a staggered manner, and looking out over the edge of one of the ultra luxurious bars gives a stunning sea view dotted with islands as well as that picture postcard view of white washed homes interspersed with colourful Mediterranean homes.
A genuine treat, that is worth the 5 Euro a coke just to sit there and lap it all in. We strolled its equally stunning streets, climbing up and down steps past pretty shops selling art and the trappings of tourism, passing the thousands of cruise ship tourists who arrive en-masse to provide Fira's residents with its main source of annoyance. The ships do make for a stunning backdrop though, looking amazing far below the town set against the backdrop of islands and lagoon. We spent a happy day's exploring the shops, finding the best views for pictures and losing our (well, John's!) motorcycle helmet, only to find it two hours later on the wall he had set it down on! Men! The prices were steep, but as is often the case, you get what you pay for, and we enjoyed day two of our Greek adventure.
We spent the next few days doing more of the same, enjoying the beaches and fine food of the restaurants, and using the reasonably priced quad bikes to get around to the capital and sights of interest. After 4 days we were ready to get on to the second of our 3 islands, and we packed our bags ready for a trip to nearby Naxos. The island hopping had begun!