Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

Santorini Day 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

Day 4 of our visit to Santorini involved a lot of sight-seeing, so this is a slightly longer post than the other ones, so bear with me! My husband and I had been searching around for boat tours or cruises which would take us to different islands. You can get ferries to other islands but they can come at obscure times, and some islands are pretty far away so will take hours to get to. While in Fira, Perissa and Pyrgos (another part of the island we drove few a couple of times), we had been looking around at different travel agencies and tour companies, and comparing prices. We found a pretty big difference between prices, the tour we ended up going with was a full day tour for €35 per person, this same package cost as much as €65-75 from other agencies, so we got a pretty good deal.

(We also looked into private boat hire, because we wanted to see the more private, romantic options. The prices were astounding, with some of them being as much as €1500 for about 6 hours for a private boat! Needless to say, we didn’t go for any of those options).

So, 8.30 in the morning, we had breakfast and made our way down to the local bus stop, where a coach was booked to pick us up, along with a few other passengers who had booked the same tour along the way. We had a quick walk around a small town called Pyrgos, there’s a famous monastary there but we didn’t get to spend much time there, but it was a lovely town with white buildings and a lot of shops.

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Our view of the docks where we would board

DSC_4524We arrived at the docks where the boats were waiting, the one we boarded was called King Thiras and was pretty big (not quite a ship but a decent-sized boat) which held around 30-40 people. There were toilets and a lounge in the cabins below, with a bar area on top for cold drinks and snacks, as well as plenty of benches to sit and sunbathe on.

From the moment the boat was safely boarded and pushed on, the breeze was beautiful. The weather was pretty perfect for us, scorching sun, bright blue skies and no clouds at all, but the heat was practically non-existent because of how cool the breeze was and the fresh air from the sea.

You can see our view from the pictures below – the boat moved quite quickly for the expanse of water that it crossed, and we quickly saw islands that we were approaching becoming bigger and bigger, while at the same time, Santorini became smaller and we could see tiny white buildings perched on huge cliffs (and also the zig-zag of those 587 steps we had gone up and down a couple of days before!)

Our first stop were the Hot Springs, which were next to the Volcano island, which took us about half-hour to reach. The Volcano Island is literally an active volcano (although the last eruption took place in 1950 AD), and actually consists of 2 islands, the bigger called Nea Kameni and the smaller Palea Kameni. This also means there are two areas with the hot springs; one in Nea Kameni island and one in Palea Kameni island – the former means you have to swim from cold water to the hot water, the latter means you can go straight into the hot water (which is where we ended up).

At this point, those who wanted to swim in the hot springs for a little while could jump in the water (which was not very deep), and enjoy the water for a while. I decided not to jump because I didn’t bring anything to change into, and I didn’t really want to join twenty other people in the water, plus while I love swimming, I didn’t want to pull out the burkini and swim, so we stayed on board with a few other people while some of the passengers splashed around.

The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.
The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.

TIPS:

  • Don’t wear your best bikini if you’re going to swim. We were advised that the water taints clothes a little orange due to the sulphur in the water, so to expect it to be a little stained.
  • The water is apparently not that hot, so don’t expect sauna/spa conditions!
  • You still need to swim safely in this area, there are a lot of rocks around and even a boat or two, although they maintain their distance. While we were at the hot springs, a private boat party parked nearby to enjoy it as well!

Eventually the boat was ready to move onto the main part of the volcano island, which is Nea Kameni. This involved a lot of hiking (which we didn’t realise, and were wearing the wrong footwear for!) around the volcano to to main parts at the top where you could see the volcanic craters.

The walk took about 30-40 minutes and was actually pretty tiring because the heat was stronger and the road was really rocky. There was a clear path around most of the island, but it was still pretty rough and slopey in a lot of areas, and you need to be willing to walk!

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TIPS:

  • Wear sturdy footwear! It really makes a difference when walking around.
  • Take water bottles with you if you can, they can really help if it’s too hot.
  • There are seats with umbrellas for shades dotted around along the way – take a break if you need one!
  • Enjoy the view! The islands which can be see from here look pretty amazing from far away.

We walked around the majority of the island but didn’t spend as long as some of the group did at the top, we rested for a while and made our way back to the boat one we’d seen enough.

If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back
If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back

We all loaded back on the boat for a quick break, before making our way to our next destination – an island called Thirasia. This is a smaller island, which is also a little more cosy and small-towny, with a fishermen feel to it, because of its ports, sea-food restaurants and greenery.

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There were quite a few restaurants along the beach and pier from the spot that we landed at, and it was also time to stop for lunch. Most of the restaurants serve mostly sea-food, and the menus are pretty much similar in most of them. We stopped at a restaurant (the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten) and had  a meal of battered fresh-fish, and grilled sword-fish, with chips and vegetable rice, which tasted beautiful.

The restaurant we were in was beneath a big windmill, which we went upto and took photos from until the restauranteurs asked us to come down because it was a little dangerous with a moving windmill.

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We had about 3 hours to spend on this island before our next stop, so we took our time to stroll around and explore. A lot of the passengers from our and other boats took the opportunity to climb up (or ride donkeys up!) the zig-zag stairs to the top, where where was a small monastary and tiny village that could be explored. We were feeling a little tired from the Volcano island so decided to save our energy and relax a little (and we were glad we did, because the next island had more stairs and we didn’t have a choice about not going up!)

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The view in this place is pretty beautiful, and the water is seriously lovely in its maze of greens and blues – we even saw small tiny fish trying to eat crumbs from bread floating away from the shore!

Once we were ready to leave we set off for Oia, which is actually at the most northern part of Santorini, and a very popular destination like Fira. This is also the most popular place to view a sunset as well, because it faces the sun without anything getting in the way. The boat arrived at this last destination around 6ish, and jetted back to the port when it came from, leaving our group with a tour-guide who told us how to get up to the top.

View of Oia from the bottom
View of Oia from the bottom

As with a lot of other islands and parts of Santorini, Oia (pronounced Eey-ya) can be reached at the top from the 287 steps which make up the zig-zag staircase, and which again can be reached either by foot or by donkey. We decided to be a little adventurous and walk up the steps this time (plus we were still a little put off by the donkey-ride in Fira!) and we managed to make it to the top in about half-an hour, although we had to keep stopping for the donkeys which went past (and which was a little scary because they push past you!)

We finally reached the top, to a long strip of road which makes up the main street of Oia – full of restaurants, gold shops, designer clothes shops and art stores and souvenirs places. Out of all of the places we went to, Oia was definitely the most expensive, and it was also the most crowded, and at the middle of it all at it’s heart is a huge church called the Church of Panagia of Platsani situated in Oia Caldera  Square, which is also a popular meeting place.

Oia Caldera Square
Oia Caldera Square

We also managed to a lot of things happening at once – a wedding shoot in a tiny church, children playing in a small playground, jewellery trying to entice customers to come in and various quirky shops and restaurants.

We stopped at a restaurant called Porto Carra (I think!) where we had a lot of cold drinks after that long climb and also a light snack, and also stopped to look at the daunting view all the way down to the bottom of the cliffs.

This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings
This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings

Around 8’o clock, we made our way down to the northern end of the street, where the best viewing platform was among the edge. There were hundreds of hotels, buildings and the ruins of an old castle around this area, which we manage to get a good viewing seat from. Lined up along all of the walls and hotels were hundreds of other people who wanted to see the sunset as well – I was pretty stunned at how many people there were.

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The sunset itself lasted about half-an hour, and there was plenty of photo-taking and enjoying the scenery (bar one dog who kept barking at the crowd from his building because of all the people!), while we slowly watched the sun go down and the colours of the sky merging from blue, to gold to burnt reds.

This was one of my favourite moments of the day, because it was pretty awe-inspiring to watch something that seemed so effortless and majestic. Having said that, it wasn’t really a romantic moment (not that we minded!) with the hundreds of spectators next to us, the barking dog and the shuffling of the crowd!

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At the end of the sunset, when it finally dropped down from a tiny sliver to complete dark with a little light to see ourselves in, the entire crowded applauded, which was nice to hear (not to mention seeing hundreds of flashes from cameras and mobiles going off at the same time!)

TIPS:

  • Bring a jacket or jumper, it can get chilly in the evening, especially after the sun starts going down
  • Oia is way more expensive than Fira – expect high prices! We wanted to try lobster while we were in the island, but didn’t because it was just too expensive. One restaurant was offering a lobster meal for €95 which was ridiculous. Don’t worry if you don’t spend a lot of food, sometimes the expensive ones taste the same as the cheaper meals!
  • Make sure you camera battery is fully charged – by the time we got to the sunset in Oia my camera battery died! There’s a lot to take photos of, so be prepared!
  • Try and arrange transport in the evening back to where you are staying – it can get pitch dark and there’s not much street lighting on the main roads.

This was the end of the tour for us, and time to also head back to the hotel – it was seriously crowded and we had to be careful not to get lost in the crowd so that we didn’t miss our coach either, but from here the coach took us directly back to the hotel and we watched the sky getting darker and darker from our windows of the coach. It was a pretty eventful and tiring day for us, and we went straight to bed for a long rest when we got back, since our feet were also pretty tired!

Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 3: Akrotiri and the Red Beach

Santorini Day 3: Akrotiri and the Red Beach

Our first view of Akrotiri
Our first view of Akrotiri

We decided on a change of scenery for this day, and decided to visit the southern part of Santorini to explore the beaches and archeological sites there. Since we didn’t want to take any taxis, we opted for public transport again to travel.

Ironically, we had to travel to Fira by bus in order to take another, shorter bus journey back South again to an area called Akrotiri, which had been recommended to us. We had looked at the idea of hiring quad bikes to get around (they cost about €20 at the local vendor we asked at), especially as we’d seen lots of people using them to get around. In the end we didn’t go with the quad bikes because it was a bit risky to drive long distances with these, and it would have added up after a few days plus petrol!

The picture on the left is our first view of area Akrotiri itself, there was a small archeological site and exhibition before this which we had a quick look at and saw a few ruins at (but we didn’t have time to go in, which I regret!), before we walked down to the strip of shops, restaurants and alleys at the pier.

We ate at a pretty place which was hidden away on the side of a turning called the Cave of Nikolas, which was an unpretentious place with quirky decor in the shape of a hollow, which reminded me a lot of Bilbo Baggin’s home! I went for battered codfish with a mash-and-garlic side, and my husband went for calamari with something called ‘tomato balls’, which is batter and tomato and seasoning (which reminded us very much of a dish we have called pakoray!)

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After eating, we decided to stretch our legs and make our way down to the famous Red Beach. We stopped at a few shops and restaurants along the short strip on the way, and took the scenic route to the main clearing towards the Beach. As with other parts of the island, the water was ubelievably clear, there were a few boats anchored nearby, and there was ample relaxing space, although again, the sand was quite pebbly so we didn’t take our shoes off for long!

From the bottom of the entrance to the Red Beach to the actual beach itself, is a bit of climb, and a little scary. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the scenery, and it really is beautiful seeing the red cliffs and blue water stretched out, but you also need to be really careful when walking to the beach because it’s pretty rocky.

TIPS

  • Wear appropriate footwear! This is really important, because there’s no proper staircase or steps, you have to have good grips over the rocks (although there is a beaten pathway where other hikers will have gone so that helps!)
  • Same goes for clothing – not that you’d expect to wear hiking gear, but it helps if you wear comfortable clothes that are easy to move around in and that you don’t mind a bit of dust on.
  • Don’t try to be adventurous! There isn’t much in terms of safety and rails, so it’s better to follow everyone’s lead and go along the same tracks.
  • Take food or water down with you if you want to relax in the main beach area of the Red Beach – we didn’t see any shops or food places at the bottom, and we noticed people brought their own towels to relax in after they went swimming in the sea.

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It was a scary climb to get to the bottom of the beach but from the very outset, it’s easy to see why it is named the Red Beach – the sand and soil were a unique beautiful reddish-brown colour, and it as easy to see why this volcanic-sand beach is one of Santorini’s iconic landscapes.

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We we reached the bottom, we could see the White Beach, another iconic landmark in Santorini, in the distance. The only way to get to this beach is to take a ferry there, but there weren’t any scheduled for the time we arrived at the beach so we didn’t wait for the next one, rather choosing to relax, admire our surroundings, take pictures and dip our feet in the (really cold!) water.

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After  a couple of hours at this beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying the view, we got a little restless after a while and climbed back up the rocks again to the top of the beach (where we found another bridal shoot happening!) and we rested at the top for a while. We  had a look at the Agios Nikolaos or St. Nickolas Church (below) which is built into the mountain at the Red Beach, and also some of the souvenir stalls nearby.

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We then made our way back to the bus-stop, although we took another route back from the way we came, spotting a home-made preservative shop, some sea-food restaurants and plenty of flowers everywhere we went.

This was a really interesting view of Santorini, compared to the hustle and bustle we’d seen in Fira the day before. While it was just as beautiful as the views we’d seen before, it had a much wilder look to it, maybe because it didn’t feel as man-made as the city had, and not as touristy as Perissa had. Climbing up and down the reddish mountains was quite tiring, and by the time we got back to our hotel we were ready to relax and have a good night sleep!

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River-side Restaurant Mondays

It’s not often that I get to enjoy a meal somewhere different, and this river-side cafe tucked away near the River Thames was a perfect spot to enjoy a light meal and a cool breeze, and watch some ferries go by.

It’s nice to enjoy the warm weather and take a break after a long day’s work (especially after convincing your husband to take you shopping and ending up with a bag full of cookies).

I’m hoping to explore London and wander  around more this summer, but for now, this is a snap for Mondays, to start the week off with some luxury and some food!

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Bright Lights in the Sky

I love a wander around London Town, there’s always something different to catch my eye, which I’ve never seen before. I’ve lived in London for my whole life, and I’ve always travelled to and from the main central streets, roaming around east London, crossing over the river to South and venturing towards West and North to see more beauty, and yet I never fail to see beautiful things.

This is something I saw after work a couple of days ago, after a spontaneous walk around Carnaby Street for some dessert and shoe-(window)-shopping, and saw this tucked away in a side alley – a small, busy restaurant between two streets, with orange and yellow light bulbs hanging criss-cross across with wires and hangings, bright lights floating above.

(What completed the scene was a man in costume shouting his wares under the lights a little futher down, trying to pull customers into the restaurant, while a group of school boys threatrically pretended to be scared by the mask and screamed).

If I find the restaurant again, I’ll be sure to go inside and see if there’s more lights, but for the moment, these make beautiful aritifical stars in the night : )

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A Chocolatey Time at Choccywoccydoodah

Whenever I tell people about Choccywoccydoodah, some of them accuse me of making the name up. I’m not of course, it’s an amazing chocolate-and-cake shop off Carnarby Street, in Central London, and definitely somewhere to go if you love eye candy and mouth-watering treats.

My best friend and I decided to reward ourselves by taking a visit there, we’d never been and decided to live up to our chocoholic natures and indulge for the day. It took us a while to get in (there was a 40 minutes queue on a busy Saturday afternoon) but this just gave us an opportunity to browse cakes, chocolate slabs and basically have a good look at the store below, while we waited to get into the eaterie on the first floor.

I’ll let you feast your eyes on the pictures, they’ll do a  better job of showing the amazing talent at Choccywoccydoodah and the beautiful (and edible!) things we saw than I can decribe. The theme at the moment is spring and florals, we were going to go a few months ago during the winter months, and look at the Halloween themed cakes, but I’m glad we didn’t now becaues the floral theme was so beautifully done.

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On the first floor is a cafe, where an afternoon tea is available, there’s a huge selection of cakes, treats, drinks and beautiful decorations, and there’s a very bohemian, arty feel for the whole place which is a delight to sit in.

We ordered a slice of cake with drinks (I had a pink lemonade, naturally), with me choosing chocolate praline cake and my friend going for a chocolate gateux. Each cake slice was huge, with about five layers of icing, buttercream, sponge and cream, encased in solid chocolate and drizzled in three different sauces. Sadly to say, it was an amazing slice but neither of ours barely managed to finish, which put a stop to us asking for a second slice.

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Harlequin Pics www.harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

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There’s plenty of beautiful decorations all over the store and the cafe, paper hearts cut out and hung on walls, embellished mirrors and crown motifs, and greenery everywhere. The seating area is just as electic and mixed, but goes with the decor and huge cake decor brilliantly.

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I loved the style and luxury of Choccywoccydoodah, there’s beautiful creations everywhere you look, complete with plush armchairs, belljars with cake, handpainted signs and some seriously beautiful edible stuff – when gonig up the stairs I even saw a chocolate snail hidden in a crack in a wall! I loved the attention to detail, and the cafe itself was surprisingly reasonable priced. The cakes on display (which are the main focus of the tv show Choccywoccydoodah) are probably a different matter, and I can imagine seeing one of these beauties at a wedding (I remember saying to my friend that it would have been amazing to have a towering six-layered floral cake like this for mine!).

For anyone in the area, I’d definitely recommend a visit, even if it’s just to browse and look at the beautiful cakes and chocolate creations on display.

My Week In Pictures: Cookies, Cakes, Brits and Red Shoes

I’ve had a whirlwind of a week, it feels, and have only managed to recover today and laze! I’ve been shopping, visiting fashion workshops, having cakes, baking cookies and not least, managed to get a Brits Award show!

I’ll be posting more of what I’ve been up to, but in the meantime I’m nibbling more cookies that I’ve baked and wondering whether to watch an golden oldie (The Mummy, I’m in an Egyptian mythology mood) or whether to read a book!

Happy weekendings all x

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The Flowery Cafe in the Corner

I love finding hidden away gems in the hustle and bustle of the streets of London, and it’s always a joy to find a new place that hasn’t been overly-glitzed by over-enthusiastic foodies (like me, I’ll admit) and isn’t overrun. I found a beautiful, flowery cafe hidden away behind the walls around Stratford area recently, and loved the fact that it’s quiet, peaceful and serves yummy-yet-healthy food which is ideal for a quick lunch stop into a flowery wonderland.

Amazingly enough, this one is literally a few stone’s throw from my work place (almost across the road), and in all the years I’ve worked there, I’ve never noticed it until a work colleague took me to lunch there a few weeks ago.

I love the colours that come slanting in when the sunlight pours in, it’s a pretty yet simple effect and isn’t ruined by the fact that there’s still plenty of passerbys.

Here’s a few quick snaps I took from the last time I visited, it’s hard to capture the flowery prettiness, but I’m sure you get an idea!

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My Week In Pictures: Birthdays, Luxurious Cake and Purple Lipstick

I’ve been having a purple lipstick week this week, which kind of puts me in an 80’s glam-pop star mood (kind of like Jem and the Holograms, which I used to read the comics of as a child). It also kind of feels appropriate with all the birthday cake and tea parties I’ve been having this week (which means I’ve consumed a lot of sugar this week, but hey, what  my dentist doesn’t know…)

I also went to see a good few films this week (X-Men and Godzilla, yaaay) which had plenty of action and blowing stuff up, so it’s been a pretty good week.

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