Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SANTORINI: The Volcanic Island

Dear Friends,

On August 17, 2011, I traveled by high-speed ferry from Crete to the Greek island of Santorini…the volcanic island.  I arrived in the Iraklion harbor early that Wednesday morning by bus and was deposited alongside a large ship that sat moored in the port.  The ship was sleek and even looked fast as she sat floating in the water, waiting for all the passengers to embark on their journey to Santorini.  After all were onboard she eased out of the Iraklion harbor and headed for open water.  Once she was on the high seas she unleashed the power of her engines and the waters of the Aegean Sea parted smoothly before her as we traveled north.  She was able to cover the 68 miles from Crete to the port at Santorini in about two hours, fifteen minutes.  Even though the sea was fairly calm with gentle swells, the ship would softly rock from port to starboard (left to right, or from side to side).  I’m sure the rocking motion contributed to the many passengers who were fast asleep in their seats.  There was what I would refer to as “theater seating” in the very large forward and aft salons.  But on the upper deck there were plush accommodations for those whose tastes demanded more and whose pocketbooks could afford it.  On our deck there was a small snack bar where one could get a sandwich, a slice of pizza, a sweet roll, and soft drinks or coffee.  While our accommodations were anything but luxurious, they were quite comfortable and provided everything this boy from Tennessee needed.  I was just content to sit back and enjoy the blue waters of the Aegean Sea flowing past as we headed toward Santorini.

About 9:30 A.M., I noticed the ship’s engine noise became subdued and our speed was noticeably slower.   I moved forward and tried to see what lay ahead…and there…out of the Aegean Sea, rose Santorini – the volcanic island!  Our ferry was piloted with the skill of true professionals as she was guided into the Athinios Port, eased alongside the dock and came to a gentle stop.  Once the ship was secured, we all disembarked and made our way to our pre-designated busses.  Our tour guide was a Greek lady who spoke several languages.  She told us that in much earlier times, Santorini was known as “Santa Irini” (Saint Irene), but gradually, that name morphed into Santorini.  Today, the official name is Thera (or Thira), but most still refer to it as Santorini.  We headed up from the port on a narrow winding road that made numerous switchbacks, and then we made our way through the capital city of Fira before traveling on to the most photographed village on the island…Oia.  On our way to Oia our guide informed us that about 3600 years ago - sometime between 1645 BC and 1600 BC, the volcano, which had been located in what was then the center of Santorini, became violently active.  The volcano literally exploded and then collapsed in on itself.  That left a gigantic caldera or crater about 7.5 miles long by 4.3 miles wide.  Immediately, the sea water rushed in, filling the caldera and resulting in the formation of a giant lagoon.  Many geologists and archaeologists believe that when the volcano erupted, it unleashed a massive tsunami which struck Crete, destroying the Minoan civilization there.  Today, beneath that lagoon, sleeps the volcano…who knows when it might awaken again and unleash its fury!

After arriving in Oia, we were given two hours to explore the narrow winding footpaths that led up and down and through the village.  I ate a quick lunch, grabbed my camera and then took off, wandering through a virtual photographer’s paradise.  I tried to focus my attention on the architecture of the buildings and the way in which the houses were built into the sides of the volcanic cliffs overlooking the caldera.  But, two hours really weren’t a sufficient amount of time to even begin to capture the photographic potential of Oia.  Oh, well…perhaps next year.

We left Oia and headed to the capital city of Fira.  There we were once again given time to travel the city on our own.  There were museums…churches…shops…tavernas…so much to see…so little time!  After assembling at the bus at the appointed time, we left for the trip back to the port and then set sail for Crete.  I arrived back at my apartment on Crete later that evening.  While I am glad that I made the trip to Santorini, I think that it has over-capitalized on its appeal to tourists.  The result is an island that is overcrowded and overrun with tourists, and the real beauty of the island has been consumed by over-commercialism.  I think I would love to visit Santorini during the winter or very early spring, when it is less crowded, the pace is much slower and the natural and rugged beauty of the island can be viewed, appreciated and absorbed at a much more leisurely tempo.

Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,

Bob Armistead

*Please "click" on  any photo to view  a much larger image.

ABOVE  PHOTO:  The caldera of

ABOVE PHOTO: The caldera of

ABOVE PHOTO: A house built into
the  side of the  volcanic cliffs in the
village  of  Oia on Santorini.
ABOVE PHOTO:  Greek Orthodox
bell tower and dome in the village of
Oia on the island of  Santorini.

ABOVE PHOTO:  The village of Oia
sits on the volcanic cliffs above  the
caldera on Santorini.
ABOVE  PHOTO:  Arch shaped
home bordered by flowers in the
 village of  Oia with the caldera in
center-right background on Santorini.

ABOVE PHOTO: A Greek  Orthodox
bell tower  in the village of  Oia on the
island of  Santorini.

ABOVE PHOTO:  Two of the most
photographed Greek  Orthodox Church
domes in the village of Oia on Santorini.

ABOVE PHOTO: The "door" to

ABOVE PHOTO: Two of  the most
photographed Greek Orthodox
Church domes in  the  village  of
Oia on  Santorini.

ABOVE PHOTO:  The capital city of
Fira perches atop the volcanic cliffs of
 Santorini overlooking the caldera.

ABOVE  PHOTO:  Bell and clock
tower  and dome of a  Greek Orthodox
Church in Fira on Santorini.
study in shape, shadow
and color.  Capital  city
of Fira on the island of
ABOVE PHOTO:  Don't jump!
A statute sits atop a building
housing an art gallery in Fira on
the island of  Santorini.


Calvin Joslin USAF said...

Oh Bob, why did we not have someone like you to tell us young airmen about what was all around us when we were there.... you bring to us in real time how it looks.... all we have to do is remember back when and close our eyes and we can see what you see.... thanks so much for blogging. I look forward to seeing all you put to paper....
Your Friend,

Calvin Joslin, SSGT (2T) USAF (1965-66)

CycleCynic said...

Thank you for the pictures. My wife and I took cruise in '97(Art Bell's Terror Tour)and we made stops in Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Navplion. Had I known about IAS I might have taken a cab out just to see what could have been, but I didn't know and my wife was sick from something she ate while on Rhodes so I just went to the duty free shop and back to the boat. Besides the cruise ruining me for regular vacations forever, we fell in love with the islands we visited. The laidback lifestyle, the beautiful white buildings and the brilliant blue sea made us want to stay. Every mini-island out from the main islands seemed to have a little white chapel on it. If we ever had to leave the country for good we couldn't go wrong on any of the Greek Islands. I'll leave Athens to you though. Thanks again.
Tim Barnes

James Gill 88-90 said...

Ahh, the most beautiful place on earth! I think I have been to santorini about 6 times and feel like it is home. If only I had enough money to retire to one of the white-washed cliff houses with the infinity pool. A wonderful day-dream, thanks!

CycleCynic said...

I've been watching some of the live webcams on Crete. Really pretty scenes. There sure are a lot of little bitty cars. They must be rentals.
Tim Barnes