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Greek Vacation – March 16th Akrotiri to Oia

Our first full day on Santorini featured ancient ruins, a red sand beach, lots of wine tasting, and one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.  The busy sight seeing however, began after a relaxed morning.  We passed the time sipping coffee from our balcony as we gazed out over the Aegean sea, and Melissa even found time to make friends with a stray cat.  Once everyone was awake, we prepared a breakfast of fruits, croissants, and scrambled eggs from the groceries we had purchased the night before, then around 11 a.m we were out the door, and on our way walking to the Fira bus station.

The city of Fira was the location of our rental house, as well as the capital, and largest city on Santorini.  I need to mention that it is sometimes translated as “Thira”, and confusingly, that the closely spelled Greek name for the island of Santorini, “Thera”, is also sometimes used.  I’m using “Fira” and “Santorini” for the place names because I think those are the most common in English.  It’s interesting to note that the name Santorini for the island came from “Saint Irene”, the name given to the island when it was conquered by crusaders in the 13th century.


Our bus left Fira at 11:15 a.m. and took about 20 minutes to travel seven twisting and winding miles to the southern coast of the island where we had our first stop of the day: the archaeological site of Akrotiri. The well preserved ruins at the site are of a Minoan settlement, which was covered by volcanic ash around 1600 BC. The eruption of Santorini’s volcano that buried the site, called the Minoan Eruption, was one of the largest in recorded history.  It may have spurred legends of Atlantis, may have caused the biblical plagues in Egypt, and verifiably caused ash deposits up to 200 ft thick on Santorini.  Modern excavations began in 1967, and currently about 3 acres of ruins are unearthed and displayed to the public underneath a large protective building.  Even though the site is large, it is estimated that only 3% of the settlement has been discovered.

There is one main path that winds it’s way through the ruins, along which we marveled at the ancient streets, multistory buildings and various clay pots of the city.  Most of the interesting artifacts have been removed from the site to museums, but it was still interesting to read the signs about the frescoes, or pieces of furniture they discovered in different places.  It was interesting to learn that because of the way the ash covered everything so quickly, delicate artifacts that decayed could be discovered by pouring plaster in the void they made in the ash.  Another interesting tidbit is that they haven’t found any bodies yet with this method, so they think the town was evacuated before the eruption.


Just a short hike away from the archaeological site we saw more evidence of ancient volcanic activity at a beach with red sand, called the Red Beach.  Santorini’s beach sand is dependent on what geological layer is exposed and varies from white to red to black. The scenery on the short hike to the water was amazing, but the sea was too cold for swimming.  Only my mom was brave enough to dip her feet in.

We sat down for lunch at a restaurant just feet away from the sea, then walked back to the bus stop to begin our journey to a winery. When the bus arrived we were surprised to find that we didn’t have to pay to get on.  Then we were surprised to find that the bus made everyone get off in a random parking lot about halfway back to Fira.  The driver said another bus would come to bring us to Fira in 10 minutes, and I started to get an idea.  We seemed pretty close to the winery, why don’t we just walk?  I was only able to convince Dan to join me, and we set out on what turned out to be a two mile hike along narrow, high-speed, roads without sidewalks.  40 minutes later we made it to the winery, but the rest of the Olsons were in Fira. They should have beat us by half an hour, but their bus driver had skipped the winery stop.  They agreed to hop on another bus to join us, and to remember to tell the driver not to skip the stop this time.


Meanwhile Dan and I spend some time gazing in awe from the winery patio, located on the cliff edge of the island’s inner side. The ocean waves were lapping at the base of the cliff hundreds of feet below when we looked down.  Looking out we could see all five volcanic islands that make up the group, as well as the white-washed buildings of Fira seeming to sit precariously close to the cliff edge.

The winery offered tastings of six, twelve, or eighteen local wines. Dan and I decided to split a tasting of twelve, and when the waiter came back with our tray of wines we saw we got a good deal; the glasses were at least half full.  When everyone else finally showed up, 15 minutes after Dan and I sat down, they shared an eighteen wine tasting.  The recommended way to drink was from dry wines to sweet wines, which mostly turned out to be from white wines to red wines.  The most celebrated grape variety of the island is Assyrtiko, which can be made into dry white wines, but also into a sweet, dark orange, dessert wine called vinsanto.

After enjoying the views and refueling at the winery, we made plans to watch the sunset from the town of Oia as the last sight of the day. Mike and my Mom were feeling a little tired, so they decided to break away from the group to rest back at the house. However, their trip back lasted longer than they hoped when they got on a bus going the wrong direction.  They did eventually make it back, but not until after getting a tour of the whole southern half of the island.


The rest of us decided to take a taxi to the town of Oia situated at the northern end of the island.  It was a fast ride.  Once in the town we walked along pedestrian only, narrow, streets lined with the Santorini style of white walled and blue roofed buildings.  There was a constant stream of tourists heading west who all must have read the same advice on tripadvisor to checkout the sunset.  We followed them to the western edge of the town where it was almost impossible to take a bad picture, with the sun casting perfect lighting over the sea, and buildings.

As twilight was setting in we walked back to the square where the taxi dropped us of thinking maybe we could find another taxi. Better than a taxi though, we just so happened to arrive as a bus was pulling up.  The bus was cheaper than a taxi and it brought us all the way back to Fira.  We made a quick stop at the grocery store for food and bottled water (we were advised not to drink out of the faucets when we checked in), then ate a light dinner of spanakopita and sipped on local wine as we planned the next day.

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