7/6/12

Santorini


While Greece has several thousand islands scattered in the Aegean Sea, there is only one Santorini. It is an island like no other. Even locals in Athens say if one can only visit a single island in their country, make it to Santorini. They are right. It is undoubtedly one of the most geographically unique, one of the most picturesque I have ever visited.

Thing is, the island is teeming with hand-holding couples - be it newly weds or those celebrating anniversaries. Not that there's anything wrong with it. I was traveling solo and the only thing I was holding unto was my dear camera. 


Here I was on an island feeling like I was an island.


Santorini is not alone as an island. It's actually part of a mini-archipelago that was once a huge volcano. More than 3000 years ago, one of the world's biggest eruptions blew off its top resulting in a collapsed water-filled caldera, the remains of which are Santorini, Therasia, Aspronisi, Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni.

Oia (the building with blue doors & windows is Oia Mare Villas)

To get to Santorini, one has to either fly or sail. Sailing can either be through a high-speed catamaran (about 4 hours, €56) or a big car ferry (8 hours, €37). A few months prior to this trip, flights (30 minutes) on both Olympic Airways and Aegean Airlines  were competitively priced at €50 one way so I decided to fly given how limited my time was.

After storing my main bag at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I headed off to the airport in Athens via a 38-minute ride on the Metro (€8). My Olympic Airways flight was leaving at 12:45 PM and it thankfully left on time. For a 30-minute flight, it was surprising to still see in-flight service. Flight attendants distributed candies prior to take-off and as soon as we were airborne, they even served a selection of drinks!

Fira

Half an hour later, a perfect sunny weather greeted me as I disembarked from the Airbus A320 I flew on. Since I only had a day pack, I was out of the small airport terminal in less than a minute. There were taxis and pre-booked shared van rides available but they were costly. Hourly buses going to the main town of Fira cost only €1.60. I had to wait 45 minutes though before the next one came.

At the bus terminal in Fira, I changed to another bus for the 20-minute ride (€1.60) going to my final destination in Oia. While there are so many options where to stay in the whole island, I was merely torn between the towns of Fira and Oia, eventually deciding on the latter when I saw a decent deal on Expedia for a cliff-side accommodation at the Oia Mare Villas. Besides, Oia  has distinct advantages over Fira - it is charmingly more laid back and has front row view of the sunsets.

at Oia Mare Villas:


Pool
Deck
My room
Free brekkie

Prior to arrival in Greece, I was e-mailed with instructions not to look for the hotel myself. So I went to their booking office just located at the bus terminal in Oia where I waited for the porter (not that I needed one to carry my day pack) who led me for the 10-minute walk to the hotel. For a first time visitor, Oia's twisting alleys and zigzagging pathways is truly as good as a dizzying labyrinth leading to nowhere.

Over at a cliff, close to where crowds gather for the sunset views, we walked down a steep path and into Oia Mare Villas itself, perched gorgeously on the caldera rim, in an area known as Old Oia. I was escorted to my traditionally-designed room (with ensuite bathroom), the only single room listed on their site. Normally priced at $92, I got this for $76. WiFi and breakfast is free. Outside my door was a stupendous view of the caldera - the very reason why I wanted to stay here.

View outside my door

It was almost 4 PM. I made my way up the steep path and tried to remember the winding alley leading back to the bus terminal.  I was hungry yet my mind was focused on one thing:

 to hike the trail between Fira and Oia.


Back in Fira's bus terminal less than half an hour later, I made my way to the cliff side past the Metropolitan Cathedral and tried to gaze at a distant, hazy view of Oia, 11 kms away or about 3 hours on foot. But before I began the walk, I sat down for a late lunch eating Moussaka at one of the restaurants in Fira. It turned out really so well I almost wanted a second serving. I haven't eaten eggplants this good!

Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Fira
Moussaka

I started hiking at 5:30 PM. There were no signs but I merely followed a path parallel to the cliff, passing by a cable car station (where those on a cruise usually come out of). Oftentimes it forked while still in Fira - either leading up or leading down - but locals were helpful to point me to where I have to go. It surely is no fun for the knees going up the wrong way only to realize one has to actually go down.

Fira gradually faded away as I walked  right along the rim of the caldera, passing by the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli and the church of Profitis Ilias. The view was spectacular despite having to squint a lot what with the sun right in front of me. This was actually the first time ever where I walked alone but thoroughly enjoyed doing it.

Gazing back at Fira while on the trail
Church of Profitis Ilias

At some point, the trail literally merged with the main road to Oia, where speeding buses and cars zoomed past me. After a few minutes, I was back on the quiet trail which has become a treadmill of loose pumice stones. I was sweating buckets but  I came prepared with bottled water and sunscreen.

Further on, the trail went a bit higher while the pumice stones kept getting crunchier under my foot. Soon thereafter I found myself staring at the perfectly situated church of Psilos Stavros. This was the highest part of the trail. It was more downhill after that, until I reached another church named Profitis Ilias - which was already in Oia's outskirts. From there, it was an easier walk on a paved path all the way.

Trail with a killer view
Psilos Stavros church
Trail flora

After two and a half hours, I finally found my way back into Oia Mare Villas. It was 8 PM or a good 30 minutes before sunset. I propped my legs up while sitting outside my room. Just above me was a huge crowd, jostling for their spots to view the setting sun - it was casting a golden glow on everyone.

For several minutes, the daily spectacle of a Santorini sunset became the most awaited part of Ma Nature's performance. As that golden orb slowly dived into the eastern Aegean Sea, hands clapped, arms entwined, lips met.

It was like a convention of Romantics Anonymous - if ever there's one.


Table for one please
Crowd at the viewpoint in Oia
Sunset

Meanwhile, my own hands were busy fiddling with the camera long after the sun disappeared. A family of four came down the alley, all talking in Tagalog. I looked up. The father saw me with the camera, "Pinoy?".

"Oo naman" ("Oh yes"), I said.
 

"Mag-isa ka lang?" ("Are you alone?"), the guy asked.

Oh...that question again.

So we talked about travels. His wife joined in. We all declared our love for Manila Bay's sunset.

Ahhh...traveling solo doesn't mean I'll be an island all the time.

31 comments:

  1. Ah, traveling solo. I can totally relate to this. One of the things that I used to hate when traveling solo was eating out. I found it awkward to ask for a table for one; it's like there's something wrong, and everyone else was engaging in eating out as a social activity, and here I am, clutching a book, eating out by myself. You also touched on the topic of romance; which is why I tend to avoid destinations that are stereotypically for couples, like Venice. Similar to eating out, I think riding a gondola would be kinda awkward to do on your own.

    That being said, I loved your pictures, and wished we explored more of Greece than Athens when we were there.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not alone with this dilemma hahaha! Lovers may not notice the solo traveler because well, they only have eyes for each other but certainly not for the hotel clerks, tour operators and restaurant wait staff we encounter.

      Haven't been to Venice so I guess that's another place where I might have to force my friends to go with me if ever.

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  2. living in a postcard.. haaay. this is one of my dream destinations as well. hopefully i wont be alone by then, para lang walang ng tanong tanong. hehe

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    1. Who knows nga ano, may makakasama ka na sa future trip mo to Europe. PHL360 might just go international!

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  3. owh this is my dream holiday...

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    1. thanks for the visit. Hope it does turn to reality.

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  4. OMG! This is such an awesome place! Sa pictures ko lang to nakikita. I must say ur the first blogger Ive seen here.. swerte mo naman. One of a kind destinations. GRABE! Ganda! Two thumbs up for you!

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    1. Salamat sa pagbisita. Maraming Pinoys pumupunta dito so for sure may blogger na na nauna pa sa akin.

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  5. Whenever I see the beautiful Santorini in pictures, naaalala ko yung The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants. Expats in this part of the Gulf tend to visit Greece in their first two years. I have exceeded the threshold already.I must do the same to take advantage of the proximity.

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    1. Welcome back - haven't seen you here in awhile.
      When I was still working in the Middle East, I actually thought about Greece as well but I ended up visiting Turkey instead.

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  6. the text that goes with the stunningly beautiful photos strikes me more. :) time will come that you'll go back to santorini or to whatever place you opt to with your 'the one'.

    my youngest brother rode the cable car going up those scenic viewing spots from his work place before (he used to work with costa atlantica but only had 5 months stint but nonetheless, he got to travel 30 countries in a short span at his young age of 21). and with his few photos of santorini plus what i saw in this post, we mere mortals will just continue dreaming of going there one day. who knows, pagbalik mo doon, magkita tayo (dream on, gelo!) :)

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    1. I hope so hahaha!
      There were some cruise ships and I actually met 3 Pinoy crews the next day - that's probably something very probable given the huge number of Pinoys employed sa mga barko.
      We don't have to meet in Greece Doc Gelo, pwede rin kahit saan, sa NYC, Penang o Maynila :)

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  7. It's everyone's dream to reach santorini and gawk at its magnificent sunset. Would someday love to have the opportunity to see this. Kakainggit.

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    1. I won't be surprised if you finally go there yourself - kayang kaya mo ito :)

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  8. Anonymous4:25:00 AM

    "Here I was on an island feeling like I was an island." I smiled while reading this. My sentiment(s) exactly. Among the most awkward things I've done are going to an amusement park in Hong Kong, and riding the SG Flyer - alone. haha. I have already mastered the art of standing in front of a tripod (silently hoping nobody's looking). -James

    Go, Solo Travellers! (although i still think travel becomes more meaningful and satisfying when it takes the form of a 'shared experience'.

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    1. Hey James,
      You're right, a shared experience with significant others makes a trip more memorable - so often I thought about how my own friends or my family would have said about certain places I visited had they traveled with me.
      IMHO, while that sense of freedom to move indefinitely is what appeals to a solo traveler, at some point, one needs the comforting presence of a familiar person/s (that's when email, Tweeter & Facebook gets handy).

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  9. Maganda ang Santorini 'di ba? I saw the setting sun from the deck of our cruise ship, probably not as spectacular as seen from a vantage point on land but there was wine and music to go with the view.

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    1. Santorini is maganda. What makes the sunset a big attraction is how the cliff-side houses of Oia become part of that golden scene - otherwise, there are sunsets everywhere that's just as spectacular, lalo na sa Manila Bay.

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  10. what a gorgeous view from your room! I love that blue door.

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    1. Indeed it was - most hotels with similar views of the caldera charge a lot more than what I paid so I'm quite a happy camper!

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  11. Hi Denis, I AGREE! There's only one Santorini! Coincidentally, I just posted
    Santorini: Our Tiny, Skinny Greek Wedding

    Glad you had a wonderful time des[pite being alone in this ultra-romatic paradise:) Youre a true travel warrior!

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    1. Just saw your blog post - your Santorini wedding is perfect as it is, something both of you will surely enjoy reminiscing as you grow in your marriage.

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  12. Beautiful! Sana I'll get to take pictures of Santorini din and get to see myself waiting for the sunset too. Ganda talaga... Great pictures :)

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    1. thanks! seeing the sunset is one of the highlights visiting Santorini. Hope you get that chance taking photos.

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  13. Forgive me, I cried because of jealousy! This my dream holiday and sorry I copied some of the pictures and save it on my cellphone as wallpaper

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    1. awwww! Don't worry, it's OK to save the photos in your phone if only to serve as wallpaper :)

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  14. Beautiful beautiful photos. haiii lovely Santorini :)

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    1. thanks - Santorini is so worth visiting.

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  15. Lovely lovely photos. I love spring; when I was there, there weren't a lot of tourists. It was just me and a few handful of people. That was a joy. I stayed for 4 days, so I couldn't afford $76 per day for accommodation. I just stayed in a hostel, which I also loved. I wish I could have seen Filipinos there too; I loved meeting fellow pinoys in Europe.

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  16. Anonymous6:45:00 AM

    How much is your budget in this whole tour?

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  17. Anonymous3:26:00 PM

    Nice blog! My wife and I will renew our marital vows in Santorini in April 2014. My 4 children, relatives and friends will be around during this simple ceremony. Everything is already in place kaya medyo excited na kami lahat. Again, thank you for this wonderful blog of yours!

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