Santorini was interesting to say the least! I will put in a warning here that both parts 1 & 2 will likely be long and epic recounts of our visit. But, I can also assure you that they will be interesting and entertaining reads!
Our initial plan after Wwoofing on Paros, was to head to Peloponnese , another area of Greece, to stay with a man that we met through the Couchsurfing network. We had been in contact with him from Canada, before we left, and had planned to either stay with him a couple days before Christmas, or a couple days just after. He has an olive farm, and it was harvest season. Although it wasn’t a Wwoofing arrangement, we told him that we would be happy to help him on his farm solely to learn about harvesting olives.
As the holidays drew nearer, we became more and more concerned with travelling by bus, or by any means for that matter, during the hectic holiday season. We had visions of 4 hour bus rides with standing room only, or just madness trying to get on buses that were already full. We were both quite concerned with getting back to Athens, and then not being able to get to our final destination. The online bus timetables were very hard to figure out, and the website itself warned us that schedules changed all the time, and were unpredictable.
With only 3 days to spare, and no information to find on length of travel times to get to our destination, we decided to head to Santorini, a fairy tale island that I had seen many pictures of, and a very popular tourist destination, almost year round. Plus, it was only a 2.5 hour ferry ride away, and we had managed to secure a hotel room for $34/night through Air BnB.
The day we arrived was absolutely spectacular! The sun shone bright and we had wonderful views of the magnificence of the island as we pulled in on the ferry. As many of the main towns are built atop the rim of a Caldera, the buildings drip impossibly off the edge, like icing sliding down the side of a cake.
Initially the white tips far above us looked like snow capped mountains. As we got closer, individual structures came into focus, and many of us on the ferry marvelled at the magnificence of it all.
The hotel offered us a free pick up when we arrived. The road to the top of the Caldera was pretty awesome. It is a series of switchbacks that lead higher and higher, and it seems that the road was as significant of an engineering feat, as the buildings that hung off the cliff side above us.As we had arrived at 3:30, we were very eager to drop off our luggage, and get out to Fira, the capital city of the island. It is here where the majority of the fabulous spectacle resides. We walked the 20 minutes into town, took a left when it looked like we were close, and were greeted with a spectacle indeed.
Tiny little passageways wound their way up and down stairs, and around bends as we wove our way through the town. Each buildings roof became the foundation for the one above it, or it became a large patio or pool, where you could sit and while away the day, staring at the fantastic scenery below.
Around every corner, a new and equally incredible view would simply take our breathe away. We were both equally ecstatic, in that moment, that we had made the decision to come to Santorini, instead of heading to Peloponnese.
As it was Boxing Day, many places weren’t open, and we weren’t sure if it was a slow season thing, or a Boxing Day thing, but the sun was starting to set and we had really only found one restaurant that was open, and that had a view of the Caldera and the setting sun beyond. It was definitely on the expensive side for us, but we rationalized that it was the Christmas season after all, and maybe we deserved to spoil ourselves a little, and for a moment, forget about our low budget travelling goals.
The meal was fantastic, and we had Ouzo and wine, and marvelled at what an amazing place we were in. The sun set turned out to be the best one that we had for the three nights we were there, so we definitely nailed the perfect spot on the perfect night.
The next morning we had a bit of a late start (likely due to the Ouzo and wine the night before), and headed out for breakfast around 10:00. It was a bit of a challenge to find something open, as now it was not only still technically the holidays, but it was Sunday. Many bakeries were open offering up delectable treats, but unfortunately I am allergic to wheat, and it’s just not worth it for me to eat it when we are trying to have a good time. It really does have the capacity to put me in the foulest mood, and I’m quite often not satisfied until everyone around me is in a bad mood as well. Doesn’t exactly make for holiday fun, if you know what I mean!?
We ended up finding a nice place serving omlettes, and we both left satisfied. We happily walked off into Fira, to catch the bus to another cliff hanging settlement called Oia, the second largest community on the Island.
As we had two days to explore, and Fira is pretty much the mid point, we decided to do the North end, mostly Oia, on day one and head South on the second day to take in many other sights that we wanted to see. Having had a late start already, we were happy that we only needed to see Oia that day.
We walked for about 10 of the remaining 15 minutes into Fira when we realized that we had left the passports in our hotel room.
Now! Call me paranoid if you must, but there is ONE THING that you do not leave lying around when you are travelling, and that is YOUR PASSPORT! We both felt that we really needed to go back and get them. Unfortunately, this set us back quite a bit in our day, and it ended up being, unbeknownst to us at the time, the decision that really messed up our plans.
We went back and grabbed them (yay!), and then set off for the bus stop near our hotel. When we had been given the ride from the Ferry to the Hotel, our driver had shown us the stop and told us that the bus will take us to Fira and Oia, and it comes every half hour. Okay, good enough we thought. We were sick of walking, and a bus sounded like a good plan.
We got there at about 12:10, so I figured that we had 20 minutes to wait for the bus. There was a paper schedule hanging on the pole, and sure enough, it looked like buses ran every half hour. We sat and waited, and waited, and waited until finally it was 12:40. I looked at the schedule again, and finally deciphered that the bus we were trying to catch, was only going to get us to Fira anyways, and we would have to pay again, and catch a second bus to Oia, once we arrived there. The schedule I was looking at said that the next bust rom Fira to Oia was at 1:00. I realized that if we started walking, we would make it to that one. My suggestion started our first argument of the trip, as we were both a bit frustrated with the situation, and Chris felt that I was just being impatient. However, we ended up walking to Fira, but not without some name calling first.
We walked as fast as our long legs would carry us, and made it to the bus station at 5 to one. We walked over to the empty ticket booth, thinking we needed to buy a ticket there, but were instead presented with a CURRENT bus schedule that said the next bus to Oia was at 2:30! It was a MUCH more condensed version of the schedule we had seen earlier, clearly one for the holidays, or the low season, we aren’t exactly sure. To top it off the last bus to come back from Oia, looked to be 4:50. Our day of exploring was now getting shorter and shorter!
Wow!! We were really not impressed by now. Not too mention that the whole time we walked the strip that the “every half hour bus” was supposed to run on, it never passed us once. AND if the passports wouldn’t have been left in the room, we would have been able to catch the 12:30 bus (or so we thought at the time.) Aaaargh!
We both took deep breaths and decided that maybe we should look around Fira a bit more, and get a coffee or something to kill some time.
Right next to the bus station was the taxi stand. We thought it couldn’t hurt to ask them how much they charged to take us to Oia. We asked one of the drivers and he said 18 Euros, roughly $27 Canadian. Eeeeek! Compared to the 1 Euro bus fare, we didn’t want to spend that much. I told the man we would take the bus, and he replied “bus every 2 hours.”
“Ya ya we know.” I said over my shoulder as I waved back at him.
So, we meandered around Fira some more, had a coffee and headed back to the bus station. This time there was a man sitting in the ticket booth. Always a good sign! We asked him for a ticket to Oia and he announced proudly that the next bus is at 3:30! WHAAAAAAAATTTTTT????? He told us to look at the schedule again, and clarified that it was Sunday.
There in the VERY bottom, teeny, tiny corner was the, even more condensed, Sunday schedule! And it did in fact say 3:30. Oh man! Oh man, oh man, oh MAN!! We were beside ourselves with frustration! A whole day wasted, one of only two on the island. It was very aggravating!
I decided that I wasn’t having any of it! As stated before, I am terrified to miss something, and we were going to see Oia if it was the last thing we did. DAMN IT!!
We marched off to the taxi booth, and took the damn taxi after all. I gritted my teeth the whole ride I’m sure. The taxi driver tried to tell us that he would drive us back for the same price. “What time do you want to be picked up?” He asked.
“No thank you, we will take the bus back at 4:50.” I quipped.
He chuckled and said “okay.” I’m sure full well feeling the wrath of my bitter mood.
We arrived in Oia, or as Chris would call it “Oh yeah!” Earlier in the day when our hostess at the hotel asked us where we were going that day, I said “Oia” (pronounced oy ya).
Chris said “No she wants to know where we are going.”
I again said “Oia.”
Chris repeated his sentence “No, she wants know where we are going.”
Finally, completely annoyed at him I basically yelled “YES! WE ARE GOING TO OIA!”
Apparently, he kept thinking that I was just saying “Oh yeah,” each time, which would have made no sense what so ever. But alas, the name was born, and it has stuck ever since.
And it’s kind of funny because we happen to say “oh yeah” ALOT. So now pretty much every time we say it, we remember Oia. Which, definitely comes with some mixed feelings all round.
After a measly 10 minute drive, we arrived in Oia, being dropped off at the same place as where we were to catch the bus. I immediately overheard tourists discussing the bus schedule, and I noticed them looking at the wrong section of it, not the Sunday schedule. I went over to point out that there was in fact a Sunday section, and read the schedule again. According to THIS schedule, the last bus went back at 3:50. Huh?? We were sure the man in Fira had told us 4:50. However, it was clear that we best be there by 3:50, just in case.
Okay, this meant that we had an hour and twenty minutes to see the place. We set off, still annoyed (however, I wouldn’t say more annoyed, as I think we were at the maximum level of annoyed was at that point, and anything else just started to seem ridiculous and ALMOST laughable,) to see what we could of Oia, in such a short time.
We headed towards the Caldera and were presented with a very similar view of what we found in Fira. Mostly white buildings spilled off the Calderra edge. However, there was a VERY distinct difference, it was absolutely dead! Nothing was open and very few people were walking around. Soooooooo, pretty much nothing to see or do anyways.AWESOME! We had gone through ridiculous grief to get here, and there was nothing to see or do anyways! However, we did find ONE restaurant that was open, and we were both hungry, so we decided it best to avoid getting the ‘hangries’ on top of it all.
Once in the restaurant, Chris recognized a family sitting down, that had been on the ferry with us when we got to Santorini. It turns out they were American, so we sat down at a table near them and started chatting with them. I mentioned that we had had a bit of a frustrating day and told them about our difficulties with the bus schedule. They were anxious to know when it went back, so we told them that we were ‘pretty sure’ it was 3:50.
They informed us that they had hiked to Oia from Fira, on a trail that ran along the rim of the Calderra. We had known that this was an option, and had briefly discussed walking there earlier in the day when the bus schedule kept getting later and later, but we weren’t sure how long it would take. I asked them, and they said it was roughly 2.5 hours. We looked at the time and decided then that we would walk back. We felt that we had come all of this way, and dealt with so much frustration, to see nothing, that we may as well make something out of it. We had water, a headlamp and good hiking shoes on, so we were set.
After the Americans left the restaurant , an Asian man sitting behind me had over heard our conversation about the buses. He showed me a picture that he had taken on his iPhone of the ORIGINAL schedule that we had looked at at the first bus stop that morning, and asked me if I could decipher it for him. I was quick to let him know that that one wasn’t the right one, and the last bus from Oia was at 3:50. He thanked me profusely, and I felt VERY satisfied that I had AT LEAST helped some other travellers get back to Fira that day.
We set off on our hike at about 3:30, knowing full well that we were in a bit of a race against time, to avoid walking mostly in the dark.We were immediately presented with absolutely stunning views of the steep Calderra edge. We kept a brisk pace, but stopped periodically to take pictures and marvel at the scenery. We climbed three separate mountain peaks (about 100-120m climbs), and on top of each one was a small church. All but one, had no roads to them, and they were clearly still in use as they were very well maintained. We were totally impressed that people would climb the hills to go to church.
The majority of the walk was uphill as Fira’s elevation is quite a bit higher than Oia’s. By now we were announcing “Oh yeah!”, each time we started to ascend again, which was generally followed with some mumbling rendition of “fuc$king Oia.”
In general we were quite light hearted about it, and despite getting very tired, and having sore feet and legs, we were happy that we had decided to walk back. At least we accomplished SOMETHING that day! We found out later that it was a 9.7km hike, and we finished it in roughly 2 hours! Yes, we were motoring!We arrived to the outskirts of Fira just as it got dark enough to need a light, so we were safe and sound with the lights of the streets to guide us the rest of the way. Our sole mission was to get to a restaurant. Our feet were aching and our lunch had worn off. We were going to eat, and then get a good nights sleep for our big day of sight seeing the next morning. WE were going to get an early start and NOT make the same mistake as we had that day.
In fact, as we passed through Fira, we passed a rental car place with an open door and a man sitting behind the desk. We decided on the spot that NO BUS SCHEDULE was going to impede our plans the next day! We would show them! We would be IN CONTROL of our getting around!
There was one car available and it would cost 30 Euros. Done! We paid a small deposit with a promise to be back when they opened the next day to pick it up.
We had a nice dinner close to our hotel, and after fell into a very solid, deep sleep.
Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear about the rest of the Santorini story. Yes, the epicness continues……….