The seduction of Santorini

July 08, 2008

Without realizing it, we had saved the very best for last on our incredible trip to Greece.

The ship’s cruise director announces that we are approaching the stunning island of Santorini. We look out across the water and see only walls of steep cliffs and rock formations. From this distance, it looks like the cliffs are snow-capped. Coming closer, I realize that the “snow” is actually hundreds and hundreds of buildings perched along the edge.

Santorini is what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion that occurred 3,6oo years ago. The eruption created a hole that is now a giant lagoon called a “caldera.” The island of Santorini, hugging the caldera, is the edge of the volcanic mountain. It is hard to believe that an island of such spectacular beauty could be born from such devastation.

As the ship pulls into port, everyone is looking straight up at nothing but steep rock walls and wondering, “How do we get up there?” Well, for those passengers who are only on the island for a few hours (not us, fortunately), there are three ways to climb the cliffs of Santorini: take a small cable car, walk the 588 steps up to the town of Fira, or hop on a donkey. Those of us who are staying in Santorini are dropped off where buses are waiting to take us and our luggage along tight zig zagging roads up the side of the cliff. I try not to think about the fact that there are no guard rails, and even if there were, it wouldn’t do any good. Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.

Soon after, we arrive at our hotel, the very beautiful El Greco. With its vivid colours, arched rooftops, cobblestone walkways, and three pools, it simply takes my breath away. The pools are filled to the brim with clear blue water creating a seamless illusion of infinity. It is a living brochure.

Our new friends, Trevor and Jennifer, are also staying here, and we are anxious to start exploring this amazing island. The four of us head into the small town of Fira for a light dinner. Fira is a collection of glitzy shops and upscale restaurants precariously balanced on Santorini’s edge or, by some architectural miracle, built into the side of the cliff. As in most of the Greek cities we have visited, the streets and walkways are very close, forcing us to rub shoulders with hundreds of strangers. The place is abuzz with activity. There is excitement in the air.

We catch the sunset and for a brief moment, we think about those passengers on the Aegean Pearl who had to leave Santorini after just a few hours. Oh, what they have missed! Looking down, the millions of night lights of the shops and restaurants dot the cliff-side. The sea is calm as we watch the sailboats easily carving their way through it. I may never leave.

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