The Beautiful Colours of Santorini

One of the things my husband and I loved when we went to Santorini was how lovely the island is in terms of the scenery – the sea looks amazing, there’s beautiful flowers like bougainvillea everywhere, and there’s plenty of white-washed architecture everywhere. However, I’ve noticed that most people assume that Santorini is just blue and white buildings with a beautiful sea – and that’s it. To be fair, if you Google the island, that’s all you’ll find – that iconic blue-and-white spot which is actually the island’s capital city overlooking a rich blue sea.

Unfortunately, this is just a tiny side of the island – literally. A lot of tourists and honeymooners come to Santorini for the blue and white scene, as well as the famous sunset part in Oia, which is a popular (but very expensive!) part of the island. While the area does look as beautiful as it does in the the pictures, it’s easy to be fooled by the images. My husband and I signed up for the sunset tour on one of the days that we were on the island, and could not believe how busy it gets – there’s literally about a thousand people all packed against the walls to see the sunset. It’s a lovely vibe, but very crowded, so not exactly romantic! Similarly the blue and white part of the city is a very popular place for people to pose, but the pictures are worth it, if you don’t mind queuing for the spot.

I thought I’d show the other side of Santorini, which is grassy, hilly and mountainous, and surrounded by beautiful flowers and blue water. Below are pictures I took from our holiday – if you notice, there’s not a single blue-and-white picture presents!

Transition

I know, I know, I’ve disappeared a little from blogging, but I’m still around, fear  not! I’ve been immersing myself in classic films and long books to enjoy a little time to myself and it’s nice not to have a little nagging pressure of worrying about cooking, tidying, working or tip-tapping away on my keyboard (until the weekend’s over and it’s back to work!)

Today’s weekly photo challenge is ‘transition’ – be it the general phasing of one thing to another, or a general progression as you learn more to go higher. It made me think of two things, firstly, the beautiful blues and greens of the clear waters in Greece when my husband and I visited in the summer, secondly, about my own journey with writing and the idea of ‘going with the flow’.

I won’t bore you with a philosophical rant (and it probably wouldn’t make sense!) but I’m loving the idea of writing and seeing where I go with it, as well as travelling to new places and seeing where we end up. I’m sure this will always remain an ongoing thing with me, and something to always explore, but it’s also something to interpret and re-interpret – progression, transition and the journey it takes us on.

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Beneath My Feet…

I love boats and I love travelling on water, although it’s not something I get to do much. When my husband and I went to Greece a couple of months ago, we took a cruise around some of the nearby islands and were awed by the beautiful blue of the waters, the cool  breeze and the feel of the sea waves under our feet.

These days, we’ll have to settle for the ferry across the River Thames for some water under our feet, but here’s to hoping for another exotic boat ride soon!

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 7 & 8: Final Tours & Departure

Santorini Day 7 & 8: Final Tours & Departure

I won’t bombard you with too many photographs in this post; the last two days in Santorini were quiet for us and we spent the last couple of days relaxing and wandering around. Because we’d already visited most of the sites on the island, we weren’t in a hurry to visit everything the way we had been before, and we picked and chose the places we wanted to go. It would have been amazing to go on another cruise to further out islands, or do a day trip to Athens, but this would have taken hours by boat, and we wanted to be able to take our time. We’ve decided to take a separate trip to Athens on another date, so more planning in the future!

We spent a lazy morning at the local beach after breakfast, sitting in the sun, looking at the sea and the quirky things around town (we wanted to try a hammock but it looked unsteady so we didn’t!)

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We went to a really interesting local restaurant called Gecko for lunch – we’d been here for dinner a few times and loved the impeccable service and cheap food. This was a newly-opened restaurant, and the chef was willing to tweak anything we wanted to menu – with some amazing egg sandwiches, clubs and veggie burgers, as well as their signature piece called Tornado Potato (a twisty piece of potato skewed all along a stick , very nice and crispy!)

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After wandering around for a while and looking at the signs, we took a bus from Perissa to walk around Fira one last time and see what we could buy.

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We also spent rest of the day souvenir shopping – there were some local shops with a lot of beautiful hand-crafted goods, such as these different glass and clay beads which I thought were beautiful. We also got the standard fridge magnets, bookmarks and touristy stuff as well, and had a look at some t-shirts (which we didn’t end up getting because they were surprisingly expensive!)

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After one last peek over the edge of the cliffs towards the beautiful sea, we headed back to the hotel to get our things ready for the flight the next morning.

The drive to the airport was strangely surreal, after seeing all the blue seas, sandy beaches and beautiful buildings, we drove for a while through green fields, hilly mountains and past mis-matched buildings and shops.

The airport itself is tiny – we’re used to the buzz of London airports and this one was pretty small, with a small cafe to wait in, a tiny duty free corner and a long queue to get to the place. The surroundings of the airport is quite sparse, but there are a few ruins around the area (including a fake building which is on the edge of the runway below, which is bigger than it looks and gives a taste of what is waiting in Santorini!)

It was really relaxing holiday for us, and lots to see – we got back to London pretty quickly (back to drizzly weather!) with a beautiful view of the countries below from the airplane window, and plenty of good memories. : )

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 5 & 6: Perissa’s Local Sights

After the eventful Day 4, we decided to relax for a few days – it was the weekend and it was also time to make the most of time off work and catch up on sleep! We decided to stay in the local area for the weekend and explore local sights (as well as relax and make the most of the sunbeds!) and saw a lot of things we wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t looked around. As with the last few days, the day was a beautiful sunny one, and the breeze from the sea meant that we didn’t feel too scorched from the sun.

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We decided to spend some time in the local beach for lunch, before we wandered around the town – I love the fact that there a lot of relics and artwork around the town, admittedly a lot of it for the purpose of tourism, but all adding a flavour to the town which was lovely.

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Hubby and I were excited to find and Indian and Thai place, as we wanted to find out if they served halal food. The restaurant we found was called Visanto, on the beach strip along the seafront, and served a variety of dishes to satisfy our Asian tastebuds. Unfortunately, none of these dishes had halal meat, so we had to stick to vegetarian dishes (and chips!)

After lunch we took the opportunity to look at the local sights, which was around the main are of the the beach, and also some roads leading off from there. The St Irini Church was our first stop, the church being named after the Saint Irene (which is what the island Santorini’s name also refers to) –   a beautiful big building of white and blue which was tucked away toward the mountains.

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We then wandered around the local shops and then decided to stop for gelato at a local ice-cream parlour, which ad some beautifully shaped seating chairs and benches, and some seriously yummy-sounding flavours of ice cream (although we just opted for traditional vanilla with chocolate!)

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We then decided to around in the the area towards the green, foresty areas, which had some private houses and closed-hotels dotted around, and lots of winding paths leading us around the area. We also managed to speak to some locals – one businessman, for example, told us he was originally from Athens, and when enquiring where we were from, told us there were a lot of Pakistanis who had settled in Athens when he was growing up, which was really interesting to hear!

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It was a really nice relaxing weekend, where we met and spoke to a lot of locals, caught up on sleep (in the hotels and the sunbeds!) and ate at a few restaurants. It also felt a little slower-paced, where we took the opportunity to meander around the town and explore, and also have a lazy weekend!

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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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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 2: Fira and Old Port

Santorini Day 2: Fira and Skala/Old Port

On our second day in Santorini was a little more adventurous, we had the whole day to explore and decided to venture out further in the island.

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We spoke to our tour guide in the morning after breakfast, and also the hotel manager, for advice on travelling around the island and getting to different parts. Both suggested going to Fira, which is the capital and the busiest hub of Santorini – from there you can get a bus or ferries to other parts of the islands.

The layout of Santorini means that the beaches, towns and places to visit are spread all over the island, and there are a lot of winding, long roads to get to each of them – which means no one walks around, but rather takes a car, bus or even quad bikes to get around.

On our last holiday, my husband and I opted not for the easier, touristy route of taking taxis everywhere, but rather made the most of public transport to see more of the country – and we decided to do this again, getting around with the buses on the island (which were actually really nice, more like air-conditioned coaches! I’m guessing they’re usually used around summer time for the tourists).

First we went to this place (above) which was next to the hotel and also in front of the bus stop, called Dorian’s Bar. The place was quiet because it was morning, and the owner of the bar (Dorian himself? I have no idea!) invited us in to wait outside of the sun for the bus to come. We got talking to the owner, who told us his place has its own history, having been there since the 80s, and told us a little about the bar.

Finally the bus came and we hopped on, with a conductor coming along to issue us small paper tickers for €1.40 to Thira, and we watched the view of the town go past on the way to the capital. To say the island is green is an understatement – you can see the greenery, mountains and houses all along the roads, with roads winding around moutains to get to the top and get back down again.

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The greenery on the way to Fira, before we saw the sea.

 

Eventually the Aegean Sea came into sight, and a few islands in the distance, while the bus (after picking up and dropping off passengers on the way) finally stopped at the main bus station in Fira and let us off to walk around.

The streets of Fira, much like some other cities we have been, were sloping, some narrow and leading off to other roads, to the shops and markets, and also to the museums, churches and restaurants which were higher up.

The first thing we visited was the White Orthodox Cathedral of Ypapanti, a big white building with arches and a tall spire. It had a garden in a middle (but we couldn’t walk through it), and it was the perfect starting place to lead us upwards to more buildings and things to see.

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From here we walked through the roads and saw more of the rich blue Aegean Sea, giving us a better view of what was below and the boats sailing past.

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Eventually we got to the edge, that iconic part of Santorini which you often see on Google and on holiday brochures – the expanse of beautiful white buildings against bright blue sky, gorgeous cliffs and the view of the sea (where we posed for a good few minutes and watched the other tourists)

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We stopped for a quick lunch at a restaurant at the peak called Zafora, where we had a cheesy pizza and lots of cold drinks, and watched the view.

TIPS

  • If you’re staying in another part of the island, you’ll find Fira pretty expensive in terms of food and drinks – come prepared with money!
  • Like Perissa, ask the restaurants if they have WiFi, and they’ll give you access if you are a customer
  • Watch your step! There’s a lot of narrow steps and slopes downwards from the top when going into hotels and restaurants. Most of them are smooth but some of them aren’t and if it’s busy and congested, you’ll want to be more careful.

We saw a gorgeous bridal shoot while we were eating as well, which really made our day because it got my husband and I talking about our owe wedding shoot – we thought Fira was an amazing backdrop for a wedding day and loved how happy the couple looked (in fact, during our whole stay we saw another 3 weddings in various places, which was amazing as we never knew what a popular place it was for weddings!)

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We decided to go down to the bottom of Fira where one of the ports where – there’s a variety to ways to travel downwards, cable-cars, donkey rides or climbing the 587 steps in a zig-zag formation, by foot! We decided to spare our feet (I think we both had sandals on which weren’t the best footwear) and take the cable cars, which was a nice treat, costing €5 per person.

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Watching passengers on the way up, while we went down

We reached the bottom, called the Old Port, which is officially called Skala. It has a real simple-town, seaside-y feel to it, perfect for a stroll with an ice-cream, and looking at the sea.

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This was a lot quieter than the city above, and a lot more peaceful as well. There’s a line of restaurants and souvenir shops along the pier and benches to sit and contemplate the scene in front of you, examine a few boats (docked or sailing) and even board one.

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We decided to relax for a while at the pier and watch the clear water from the edge of the rocks. One thing which continued to strike me over and over again during our stay on the island was how beautiful the water looked everywhere we went, it was pretty clear in most places and in beautiful shades of greens and blues. Naturally, hubster and I took this as a chance to take our sandals off and stick our feet into the water, which was cold but very refreshing!

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It was also pretty crazy how far down we were from Fira, and it’s difficult from this angle to show how far down we were, but the hundreds of buildings were a lot less visible and a lot more tiny. We could also see donkeys carrying passengers up and down the 587 steps as well!

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After relaxing for a while (and eating an ice-cream, mine was watermelon flavoured!), we wandered around the shops, and even discovered a tiny church hidden away as well.

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Relaxing on the edge.

 

Eventually we decided to make our way back up to the top, and decided to skip walking up the stairs and be a bit more adventurous – we decided to ride donkeys up them. While we don’t regret this afterwards, it was pretty scary for both of us. Our donkeys were a little moody and kept stopping for no reason, they kept pushing our feet (and past each other) and you had to be extremely careful when they were either near the cliff wall (so you don’t get your leg squashed) or on the wall facing the sea (which was really scary because I had a constant fear of falling off the edge). Nevertheless, it was actually fun once we got the hang of it, and we even got to see photos of us taken by the donkey-owners at the end of ride, just like a theme-park ride, with our mouths open. Needless to say, we didn’t buy our photos, even though it was a shame I didn’t get to take more than two with my own camera because I had to keep my hands free.

Tips

  • Hold tight! Don’t be stupid (like I was) and try to take photos unless you’re really sure you know what you’re doing. It’s better to hold onto the saddle with both hands and feel a lot more secure (and don’t worry, I put my camera away after I got scared of dropping it a few minutes into the ride)
  • If you think you’re riding too close to a wall, you can kick a leg out and push away from it to cause some more room.
  • Don’t be alarmed if the donkeys stop suddenly, they do that. A lot. To sniff each other, to sniff donkey droppings on the floor, heck, pretty much anything.
  • Don’t try to be too adventurous and do your own thing. At the end of the day, we were riding up 587 steps and it was steep at some points, with some steps not very level or wide, so don’t scare the donkeys and don’t try to go your own routes, it’s better if you travel together.
  • Once you get off the donkeys, some donkeys may keep going past, face them and flatten yourself against a wall, and STOP. Don’t try to outrun them.

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Eventually we got to the top, and wandered around a little more, and shopping around – while there were a lot of shops and cafe, some of them had a market-feel to them (although we tried haggling, unsuccessfully, when Hubster tried to buy a hat, after being told everything had a fixed price.) We discovered a variety of places (like the ones below), including a Bubble Tea place (which is pretty much popular everywhere now!) and some ice cream places to sit and relax in.

It was a really nice day out, and a taste of how to get around the island and explore. Looking back at this post, it looks bright and very blue, and in honesty that’s how it looked from when we stepped off from the bus in Fira and walked around – the weather was beautifully clear and bright blue to match the sea, and it was a nice difference from Perissa Beach, which is more for relaxing, while this involves walking around and exploring. It was also really nice to meet a variety of tourists, the resort in Perissa that we were staying in was a lot quieter and had a lot more maturer couples and tourists; in busy Fira it seemed that everyone and anyone came to visit!

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After the long day out, we decided to head back to the hotel before the sun set (which is around 8.30ish when we were there) to avoid walking through the lanes in the dark. We caught a bus and it was a lot quicker on the way back, probably because the driver knew the passengers didn’t want a leisurely, scenic route! Once we got back, we relaxed at the lounge by the pool for a little while with coffees (him) and cake (me) – we both agreed that it had been a really nice day out and that neither of us were going to sit on donkeys again for a while!

Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 1: Arrival/Perissa

Santorini Day 1: Hotel Rena, Perissa and Perissa Beach

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View from plane window

From the very outset of our arrival, Santorini as an island was beautiful. The weather was completely sunny and clear even while travelling on the aeroplane, and (having the window sea!) the window view was beautiful – clear blue seas, high cliffs, beaches and hundreds of tiny roads. We arrived at a tiny airport in the middle of a lot of greenery, checked out quickly from the airport with our luggage and met a beautiful temperature of 27° C which was perfect.

 

We took a coach to the hotel’s entrance, which involved a small path off the main road of shops and bars into a private lane, with trees painted white lining the way. This is the entrance of our hotel, which had a swimming pool and bar at the entrance before walking into the lobby:

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We arrived very early afternoon (Santorini is only 2 hours ahead of London) so we took a quick nap, changed and went out to explore. Our hotel was located in an area called Perissa, which is more south of the island, and a lot quieter than some of the other areas we visited. We visited in early May, which is early in the tourist season – a lot of restaurateurs and shop-sellers told us that it was quiet for now and would get a lot busier from the end of May until July – which was perfect for me because I hate crowds.

The main thing which struck me about this island was how green it is. It sounds obvious, it’s an island so naturally there’s be plenty of forests and mountains, but none of this is advertised when you Google Santorini – it’s all beaches and blue water. And there’s a mountain on every corner – to get anywhere you must drive around winding roads – our coach took us round and round the roads of a mountain to get to the buildings at the top, and yet from our mountain we could see other ones all over the island.

The mountain facing our hotel
The mountain facing our hotel

One of the places we’d made a note that we wanted to visit was Perissa Beach, and luckily this was literally around the corner from us – at the end of our hotel’s lane, we’d turn left and see the sea immediately, and a long row of shops, bars and cafes alongside the beach itself.

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Perissa Beach is also called the ‘Black Sand Beach’, named for it’s dark sand of volanic origin – there’s a good few places like this all over the island but this is one of the more renowned ones.

TIPS:

  • If you buy a drink or a meal from one of the restaurants along this strip, you get access to their beach beds and WiFi – make sure you ask about these if you want them.
  • There’s plenty of restaurants and cafes – don’t just go in the first one, look around and compare prices, a lot of the menus are the same but some are cheaper than others.
  • There’s enough variety of cuisine all over the island – we found an Indian and Thai restaurant, a burger place, an ice cream/gelato place and some Chinese restaurants!

We stopped for a meal – unfortunately we were unable to find any halal places anywhere, but we both like trying sea food and there’s also plenty of vegetarian options.

We went to a restaurant called Apollon, and ordered grilled swordfish with rice and chips, and a cheese-feast pizza. The fish was amazingly tender and juicy, and the pizza was the same – we could see that the fish was fresh and the portions were pretty big.

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After this we decided to relax on the beach beds, enjoy the view and soak up the sun with a cold Coke and a book (in my case) and mobiles (his!) and watch the boats go by. We didn’t go swimming in the sea because we weren’t dressed for it, and we wanted to do this on another day, but we did take the opportunity to shed our sandals and dig our feet into the sand.

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After we’d had enough of lazing around, we talk a short walk around the town to explore on our way back to the hotel. We saw a lot of beautifully decorated buildings and roads on the way back, and everywhere we walked there were flowers growing on vines, in plant pots and climbing up walls.

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I loved the fact that there were plenty of tiny cafes and restaurants hidden away, which were perfect when we wanted to get snacks, cups of coffee or drinks in the evening.

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It was a really nice first day on the island, the heat was lovely without being too intense, and the people we spoke to were really friendly. Most of them were able to speak English fluently and were quite helpful in telling us different places to visit and things to try – it was a fairly relaxing day which was just what we needed after an aeroplane flight!

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Honeymoon Travels…Santorini Sun, Sandals and Sand

I’ve been absent for a few days, so apologies for that, but its only because we’ve decided to whisk off to the Greek Islands! I’ve decided to post a sort of travelogue of our time in Santorini, which is the main island we’ve stayed at, since I wanted to show the main things we’ve been up to and also any tips and recommendations for anyone wishing to visit.

To start off with is this glorious view of Thira, the capital of Santorini and one of it’s most busiest places and port. It’s difficult to show the best parts of this island and things we saw and places we went to, so this is one (of many!) photographs I took, which shows the iconic blue-and-white landscape – pure white buildings alongside a beautiful azure blue sea and plenty of boats.

I’ll be posting more very soon, the weather was absolutely beautiful and everything was very vibrant – the sea, the food, the markets and the sunsets – and it was a brilliant (and much needed) break!

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