Today’s port of call is the island of Santorini. The island and its surrounding islets were formed from a colossal volcanic eruption in 1650 BC that echoed across the ancient world and created a huge, deep-blue caldera (submerged crater). As we sail in, we realize that we are sailing into the caldera. Vertical cliffs rise sharply from the water’s edge and they appear to be snowcapped. Sailing closer, the mystery of “snow” is revealed as dazzling white houses. The ship anchors inside the caldera.
We tender over to the island’s new port, Athinios. It is a narrow strip of land at the foot of the cliffs. The water is rougher than we expected as there is a strong wind blowing. We welcome boarding the bus and are glad to hear that the wind is less on the other side of the island. The tour bus begins to zig-zag up the vertical side of the cliff. An older lady sitting behind Deb begins to freak out even though she is with her family. She obviously does not like heights.
We travel north across the top of the caldera to a beautiful, small town called Oia. It is an ideal place for seeking peace and quiet. We have time to walk down the narrow passageways past a church, cafes, boutiques, jewelry stores and art galleries. There is a photo op at every turn. We stop for coffee at a small café overlooking the Aegean Sea.
Our lunch stop is Kamari, a beach resort. The beach is a long, black sand beach. The sand is volcanic rock and pebbles and the water is cold. Beach shoes, a beach chair, and summer heat is the only way to enjoy this beach. It is Easter Sunday and the beginning of the tourist season so the village is virtually dead. We dine on a vegetarian pizza and local beer at one of the few open restaurants.
Our next stops are a monastery and then a wine cooperative. The number one product of Santorini is wine. Farmers have invented a unique way of growing the grapes. To protect the plant from the wind, they twist and braid it, giving the form and shape of a basket. They place pumice stones inside and around the basket. The pumice acts as a sponge absorbing the humidity at night and releasing it during the day to water the plant. In this way, the grapes are grown without any irrigation. The wine cooperative serves samples of a white, a red and a dessert wine from grapes grown locally.
Our last stop is the village, Fira, which is the capital and is located in the center of the crescent shaped island. It is full of attractive whitewashed houses, boutiques and winding narrow streets. It is supposed to be one of the best places to view the entire caldera but the wind is blowing so hard that we cannot even focus the camera. Our tour guide apologizes for the wind. She claims that it only blows like this a couple of times a year. It is just our luck that we visit on one of those days. The plan was for us to ride the cable car down the side of the caldera to catch the tender back to the ship. The cable car is now closed because of the wind. Alternatively, the bus zig-zags back down the caldera cliff to Athinios and the tender picks us up. The tender rocks so much at the pier that it takes four Greek guys to help each passenger on board the tender. The trip back to the ship is very rocky.
The cruise ship departs Santorini around 8:30 pm. It is announced to use extreme caution while walking about the ship. We take no chances. We head for the cabin, take the motion pills and go to bed early. While not as bad as the Drake Strait, there are plenty of swells and rocking. Luckily it only lasts a few hours. Who would have thought the Aegean Sea could be this rough? We dock back in Athens around 6:00 am. While having our breakfast, we watch our “old home”, the Amsterdam, sail into Athens. It is a sentimental moment to realize that we know quite a few passengers and crew on board the ship.