Santorini: Fire in the Aegean

santorini greece, greece, fira, thira

Like most people, I seldom experience the dawn, but when I do I find it delightful.  On this particular morning I am up early standing outside our private deck that overlooks the Aegean Sea.  It is cold, bleak, and quiet – the sky encompassed by darkness.  I take a seat on one of the chairs and patiently await the glorious phenomenon that has been unfolding every morning since the beginning of time.

It happens slowly; a touch of light, the smallest of glimmers, starts to appear in the dark sky.  I remain seated, secretly hoping that my husband would awake from his slumber and witness the event with me.  Then without warning the sky is suddenly incandescent with vibrant hues of orange, pink, and red.

Reveling under the fiery red sky I pick up my camera and start to take pictures.  Moments like these are priceless and remind me how infinitely blessed we are.

The dawn is like a window to the good in each of us.  Each beam a direct connection to the humanity of the soul.

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Not long after the sun begins to rise, a dark shape looms in the distance and I catch my first glimpse of the Greek isles.  I head inside to wake my husband and get dressed.  We eat breakfast then go outside where we are lead into a boat that takes us to the island.

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It is a beautiful day -the sun shining brightly over the sparkling blue-green sea.  I gaze out and admire the picturesque scenery not minding the bumpy boat ride.  Images of blue domed roofs, black sand beaches and buildings of white inundate my mind.  Back when I kept a proverbial bucket list of places to visit Santorini was at the apex and now I was only minutes away from the famous Greek paradise.  In the days when we first started dating, I had mentioned in passing to my husband that in all the world, there was no place I would rather go than to this glittering jewel of the Aegean.  Though he never spoke of it, he obviously remembered and had secretly been planning to take me there after our wedding.

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Santorini or Thira (pronounced Fira) as the locals call it, is the remnant of a volcanic caldera in the Aegean Sea.  Long a hotbed of volcanic activity, smoke still rises from the inner islands and springs bubble up from black rock, still warm from their passage through the fires of the Earth’s crust.  Thousands of years ago, this enticing lagoon of crystal water was the site of one of the world’s largest volcanos.  When it erupted, it caused a tsunami of unprecedented size that completely wiped out the Minoan civilization on the neighboring isle of Crete.  The eruption is still regarded as one of the largest in human history.  Geologists classify it as a VEI 7, and the initial explosion had more energy than over one hundred atomic bombs!  Centuries later, when the Venetians were at the peak of their powers, they conquered and colonized a wide swath down the Adriatic and out into Aegean Sea.  They occupied Thira and christened it Santorini in honor of Saint Irene.  Though it was later granted the use of its original name of Thira, Santorini has stuck as the vernacular term for this beautiful archipelago.

Upon reaching land we were lead to a bus that would transport us to Oia, the most famous village in Santorini.  The village of Oia is perched on the rim of a very steep cliff so getting there by bus took a while.  As we made our way up the narrow, winding road the tour guide started giving us general information on Santorini and then revealed the island’s dark secret: vampires.  According to legend, inhabitants that met a violent end, lived a life of sin, or did not receive a proper burial were taken over by a malevolent spirit and turned into vampires or vrykolakas.  Corpses of individuals suspected of being vrykolakas were taken by boat to the islands for burial, as it is believed that the undead could not cross sea water.  As a result, Santorini and the surrounding islands were used as a dumping ground for vampires.  As someone who appreciates Greek mythology and legends I found the topic quite interesting.

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I was feeling a bit groggy on our way to the village, but when we arrived and I got my first view of the iconic white washed buildings I was instantly reenergized.  Oia is not only the most famous village in Santorini, but also the most beautiful.  It is a charming village with blue domed churches, white painted houses, sun drenched verandas, and narrow stepped streets.  A regional seat of both Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, Santorini has more churches per capita than almost anywhere else on the planet (partly due to the tax breaks and land guarantees that building a church provides), but also due to the fact that many of these places of worship were built for private use to give thanks for safe travel upon the treacherous waters of the Aegean.  The result is an epic panorama of blue domes and white spires, that contrasts beautifully with the sparkle of the lagoon below.  It is here that the tour group splits up to explore Oia on our own.  The Captain and I decide to walk around and take in the gorgeous landscape.  The village provides many spectacular views so we take countless pictures before checking out the shops.  Afterward we reunite with our group and are taken to the Santo Winery in Pyrgos.  The view of the caldera from the terrace is simply breathtaking and a perfect place to enjoy a flight of wine.  Unfortunately, I did not partake in the wine tasting due to my sensitivity to alcohol and opted for Coca Cola instead.

We continued to the village of Thira, the island’s capital.  Like Oia, the village also has blue domed churches, white buildings, shops, cafes, taverns, etc.  My husband and I wander around the Plateia Theotokopoulou (the main square) and enter the shops.  We buy a painting and as we are checking out the merchant initiates conversation and wishes us a happy marriage.  She also tells us to have many children and to take them with us to Santorini in the future.

The Captain and I check out a few more shops before having lunch at the 2 Brother’s Bar where we enjoy a delicious Grecian meal.  When we are finished we walk around some more – taking pictures and checking out buildings.  Santorini was definitely my favorite port of call and I was sad when it was time to go.  I felt like I didn’t get to see enough!

Along the coast of the island, the cliffs of Santorini are sheer drop offs into water below.  There were therefore only a few options to get down to the port -walking, mule ride, or cable car.  While the mule ride sounded the most fun we didn’t have a lot of time so we took the cable car which was faster.  I enjoyed the ride down and loved the view of the beautiful clear water.

We get on a boat similar to the one that took us to the island and are transported back to the ship.  From there we go to our state room and lounge in our private balcony.  My husband and I watch as the ship departs.  The white rooftops gradually fade away into a sea of the deepest blue.  Going to Santorini is a dream come true and seeing the island with my beloved made it even more special.

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