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!
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:
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.