Our ferry from Naxos to Santorini arrived at three on Wednesday afternoon. Approaching the port, we saw three primary villages of white houses and churches perched on top cliffs looming 100 to 150 feet above the sea. The island of Santorini is shaped like a crescent moon, where Fira (the main town) is nestled in the hollow of the crescent, with Oia (to the north) and Akrotiri (to the south) looking back in to Fira from across the bay. The smaller island of Thirasia is about a mile off the coast and blocks a portion of the open crescent formed by Santorini and further shelters the port.
Santorini and Thirasia used to be one, round-shaped island until a set of earthquakes and volcanic explosions (said to be the largest in recorded history) caused the center of that island to collapse and the sea came rolling in. The result is that Santorini slopes up fairly gradually from the east (the back side of the crescent) and drops straight into the sea on the inside of the crescent--Volcanic eruptions in 197 B.C. and 1707 A.D. created two smaller islands in the center of the submerged volcanic caldera. Thankfully, nothing erupted during our stay.
Santorini is on the itinerary of every cruise ship and package tour of the Greek Islands, and the level of tourism infrastructure from the other islands we visited was apparent immediately. (I was able to buy a U.S. paper, which was a nice treat.) With Fira being near the port and the center of all the hubbub, we decided to make Oia our base to escape the hordes (at least until sunset--more on that later). After about thirty minutes of toting our bags up and down, around and around the pedestrian streets of Oia, we settled on a suite with sea view and a wonderful breeze. It cost a little more than we had hoped to pay, but it included a kitchenette so we decided we'd offset the price by cooking our own meals for the next few days. After getting settled in our room and grocery shopping, it was time to go for a walk and take in the famed Santorini sunset. About 6:30, every non-Santorinian man, woman and child on the island charged into Oia with their camcorders and cameras (many with the flash engaged) to admire the red disc descending into the sea. Ten minutes later, we had Oia largely to ourselves again.
I got up early the next morning for a walk and got some nice photos of the sunrise coming over Fira from my vantage point in Oia. At mid-morning we took a bus to the south eastern part of the island to laze away the afternoon on the black sand beaches of Perissa. We paid 5 Euro for two lounge chairs and an umbrella and enjoyed a nice breeze.
We found out that the next ferries to Crete were set to leave on Friday (speed boat costing 27 Euro) and Sunday (regular ferry for 13 Euro each), and were undecided on whether to stay or go. But when we discovered on Friday that only business class was available (38 Euro), we decided to stay in Santorini for two more days as we could basically live off of the price difference of the boat ride. We spent the afternoon in Fira, which had nothing on Oia in scenery and where we felt that the extra variety in pastry shops did not outweigh the congestion.
From there we went to Akrotiri to take up cheaper lodgings for our two extra days on Santorini. Since the busiest part of the tourist season is over at the end of August, there are plenty of rooms available in Fira and Oia, making Akrotiri relatively deserted in late September. No souvenier stands, a couple of mini-markets for groceries, and locals who seem glad that you're here. We went for a long walk around sunset that night, then came back to our room and split a watermelon that I had bought earlier that afternoon. We have a little veranda with table and chairs where we can see the eastern coastline.
On Saturday, we slept until 10 (I guess it was the long walk the prior evening), then headed off to Red Beach. This beach is about 200 meters long, enclosed by rocky points at each end (which do nothing to block the blustery wind) and is backed by an eighty foot cliff made of reddish brown volcanic rock about fifteen meters from the water. The beach is sand, gravel and pebbles from the red cliff, hence the name. We found out that the cost of using the umbrella was not included in what we paid to use the beach beds (and the rest of our cash was a mile away at the pension), so we each got a little sunburned.
We spent our last day on the island relaxing and exploring a little more of Fira, including the archeological museum, before the ferry to Crete leaves at 4:00 p.m.