The Santorini Thing

This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, September 06, 2006 was originally posted on September 09, 2006.

DAY 13:  Santorini, according to basic geography, is a micro-archipelago of the greater Cyclades island group in Greece.  The remains of a collapsed volcano, it once held a settlement of Minoan prosperity — until a volcanic eruption wiped it out.  None of that barely matters today for Santorini is now a popular honeymooners destination with its unique, brightly painted architecture contrasting gray metamorphic cliffs that swoop down to black sand beaches.  Its overall appeal is so romantically mainstream that it is a port-of-call on the list of every luxury cruise ship in Greece.

“The Wanderings of Trinideus” continued to this tourist destination not by cruise line but by a high-speed catamaran named “Super Jet” from Iraklion.  As I approached the volcanic lair, I saw that the peaks were snowcapped — until I realized the white tips were actually buildings.  More specifically, they were the restaurants and designer shops of Fira, Santorini’s main town, a condensed maze of alleyways for cruise tourists to wander for the day before getting back onboard their respective Love Boats.

As uber-touristy as it was (there’s even paintball and a water park on the island) I really didn’t mind it that much; Fira’s unique architecture of Ottoman curves, bright whites and blues set it apart from the generic island tourist scene of the other places I’d been so far.  Sure there were other places in the world with similar aesthetics — Arequipa, Peru, Cinque Terre, Italy for example — but I was in Greece and I was landing there anyway.  Without a chip on my shoulder, I figured I should do “The Santorini Thing”: to experience Fira as a package tourist, at least for 24 hours, before making moves to a more laid-back part of the island.

My home base in Fira was not in a luxury hotel, but a family-run pension where the family Petros lived above a series of studio units.  Mr. Petros met me at the dock, his cousin drove me to the house in a minivan, and I was greeted by the mother of the household — “Mamma” she wanted to be called — and the teenage daughters.  The younger one showed me my room in the back, with its view of the east, where I set up shop.  My brief encounter with their family life in their part of the house was not unlike most families — the older sister was busy cooking in the kitchen while the other pouted that their father wasn’t yet living in the modern world — he refused to get a cell phone, even for his business.

But I digress.

I wandered around Fira’s alleyways of shops, restaurants and churches, with its stunning views of buildings perched (picture above), it seemed, atop each other, all on the edge of the caldera wall as if to flirt with the powers of gravity and geology.  Their backdrop was a view of the sea, the stuff that postcard dreams are made of, and I shot the same trite view-through-the-portico photos that everyone else did.  (If I had a video camera with me, I might have stood in one place to do 360 panoramas to show all my friends at home, too.)  Many languages filled my ears from the international scene of tourists:  British English, American English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, and even Tagalog.  Because of the worldly clientele, there were some non-Greek restaurants around from an Irish pub, a Chinese restaurant, and a Mexican place oxymoronically called “Señor Zorbas.”

Walking around the outskirts of Fira’s tourist zone, it was obvious what another one of The Santorini Things to do was:  stop walking and rent a moped or ATV from one of dozens of shops, to explore the rest of the island at your leisure.

“Can I rent a motorbike?” I asked Cris, the guy running the shop by Pension Petros.

“You know how to ride?”

“Yeah, I rode one in Vietnam.”

“Ha, in 1962?”  He chuckled, even though I didn’t get it at the time.  He was a little wary to loan me a moped since a lot of the switchbacks on the island were hard to maneuver.  “Are you sure you know [how to ride one]?”

“Uh, yes,” I said, remembering that while I was a whiz of driving one in Vietnam, I almost crashed into a vendor stall in Boracay, Philippines.

“[I think it’s better for you to take the ATV.]  Better for you, better for me.”

“That’s fine.”

And so, for the first time since Namibia, I was on the back of an ATV to cruise around like a four-wheeled, Easy Ridin’ poser.

ZIPPING AROUND Santorini was great, driving through the dry landscape — so dry that Santorini must import all its water.  I checked out the monastery at Pyrgos and made occasional stops on the side of the road to take pictures of stunning views of the caldera.  I eventually rode down to laid-back Perissa Beach on the other side of the island to set up a scuba dive for the following day and look up a familiar face from Athens (from New York).

“Is there an American girl named Lilit staying here?” I asked the table of Aussies on the front patio of the Youth Hostel Anna.  “From New York, about this tall, kind of pretty, looks like Scarlett Johansson…”

“Oh yeah,” one of the Aussies said.  “Kind of pale?”


“She’s in my room,” he told me.  “[Dorm] Number One.”

However, Lilit was passed out sleeping when I opened the unlocked door, and simply left a note for her before riding off on the ATV again.

SUNSET WAS APPROACHING and The Santorini Thing to do was watch it from one of the many restaurant terraces perched on the caldera cliffs, or take the cable car down to the old port and catch it there.  Choosing the latter, I found myself in line amidst a big group of old French cruise tourists and a middle-aged American woman.  “Are you traveling alone?” she asked me.


“Down to this Hell?” she said with cynicism that made me believe she was from New York.  No joke though; we were literally being led to the cablecar loading zone like sheep into a corral.

“Yeah, I know,” I told her.  “I’m here tonight, but I’ll probably go to Perissa tomorrow.  It’s nothing like this.”

“Thing is, they need this [hell] to exist.”

“It is what it is,” I said.  All a part of doing The Santorini Thing.  I saw the touristic views from the cable car, and the changing sky colors from the old port, and all the boats bringing the port-of-call tourists back on their Love Boats.  The only Santorini Thing I didn’t do was take a donkey ride back up to town, after a donkey tout rubbed me the wrong way in trying to get me on one.  (I needed the exercise anyway.)

DAY TURNED TO NIGHT and the lights of Fira sparkled with the twilights of a romantic honeymoon.  I had fava bean soup, mussels saganaki and a mediocre grilled octopus at one of the touristic terrace restaurants since Nikolas, the highly-recommended, authentically local Greek restaurant had a huge line out the door.  I ended the night by checking out a couple of bars and clubs, drinking Alfa beers and glasses of Metaxa on the rocks.  (Greece’s cognac, better than ouzo or raki in my opinion.)  I stumbled home drunk that night — all a part of The Santorini Thing after all.

The next morning as I left my quarters, I saw the same minivan that had driven me in just 24 hours prior, bringing in another lone tourist.  The Santorini Thing would begin all over again.

Next entry: Searching for Atlantis

Previous entry: The Old Man and the Sea

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “The Santorini Thing”

  • Wow, this entry is full of pic’s! Thanks for them all, that is one
    beautiful place! By the way….first on a Sunday morning!

    Posted by Anonymous  on  09/09  at  04:23 PM

  • Great pics again! Really liked the “lights of Fira” pic. What happened
    with the donkey tout?

    Posted by Dan 3  on  09/09  at  05:34 PM

  • DAN3: Well, rather than politely ask if I wanted to go up, he was sort
    of forcing it upon me, grabbing my arm and trying to shove me on the
    back of a donkey.

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • So, is it sacrilege to paint your house any other color?

    Posted by oogy  on  09/10  at  01:01 AM

  • pics make the buildings look like an architectural model display..

    dood, you got DARK

    Posted by markyt  on  09/10  at  04:19 AM

  • OOGY: I dunno… there were other colors, but still bright pastels.

    MARKTY: Darkness everybody, darkness!

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • Santorini is touristy but it sure is beautiful, isn’t it? In Greece
    sometimes you just have to go with the tourist thing. I admit, I’ve
    danced on a chair and had a lot to drink in Fira town. (well, in
    Santorini - it seems that every island has a town called “Fira” - I
    guess that just means “town”.) I went to Perissa beach too.

    There are some small islands in the Dodecanese where you can be one of
    the only tourists - I actually missed the other tourists a little bit in
    Telendos and Simi - but they were great!

    Posted by sara  on  09/10  at  09:06 PM

  • Everything is soooo blue!!

    Posted by Anonymous  on  09/10  at  10:43 PM

  • I’ve always wanted to be kind of pretty.

    Posted by Lilit Marcus

  • Purty, purty, purty… I’m so glad you took pictures while driving - I
    was worried that you’d become sedate and touristy in your old age.

    Posted by tallgirl

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This blog post is one of twenty-five travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Tomatoes, Grease & Beer" (originally hosted by, which chronicled a trip to Spain's wild Tomatina festival, Greece's awe-inspiring islands, and Munich's world-renowned Oktoberfest in August/September 2006.

Next entry:
Searching for Atlantis

Previous entry:
The Old Man and the Sea


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