For a relaxing time, make it Santorini time

Written at about 7:30 AM local time on July 14

We were told by numerous people, crew and passenger alike, that Santorini was the most beautiful of all of the Greek islands we visited–and certainly the most unique. I, for one, was not disappointed. We were warned that there would be large crowds and long lines so I decided to get to the island as early as I could. Mom, Dad, Jen and Jason all had an organized tour of the island and their tour departed at 7:15 AM. I left for the island 15 minutes later, at about 7:30 AM.

The ship dropped anchor about a mile off the coast, in the the exact center of what used to be a gigantic volcano. We had to take a tender into the town and the seas were pretty rough, making the tender ride very interesting. It only grew worse throughout the day, mainly due to the wind, which by late afternoon had reached well over 60 MPH. This was to have an interesting impact on our dinner, but more on that later.

The towns on Santorini are literally build into the cliff tops that once formed the caldera of the volcano. I got off the tender at the base of the cliff leading up to the town of Fira. The main town of the island, however, is Oia, which was at the north end of the crescent-shaped island. There are three ways of getting up to the town from the port: cable car, donkey, or walking. I wanted to walk (it is a 1,200 foot climb) but decided I would walked down instead. It was early enough that there was no line for the cable car, so I took that up, paying my four Euros for the three or four minute trip. The cable cars take you almost straight up–nearly vertical–the cliff walls, and provide you with spectacular views of the surrounding seas.

I took nearly 200 pictures while wandering about Fira. Early in the morning, many of the shops were closed and there were not yet crowds of people. My plan was to wander about for an hour or two, soaking it all in before it got too crowded and that’s just what I did. There are narrow, cobblestone streets, and stairways going in all directions. And always, the spectacular views of down below. There are many cliffside hotels and cafes. These have regular doors that are setup that lead into courtyards, with no walls, so that all you see is a doorway, which looks kind of funny. In a way, the town looks like something out of Dr. Seuss’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are, on the pages that read:

And be lucky you don’t live in Gizaire
With your bedroom up here, and your bathroom up there

I believe the population of the town is somewhere around 10,000 people during the summer, and it drops dramatically thereafter. But it was one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited, no doubt about it.

At around 9:45 AM, I decided to walk down to the port. You follow the same route as the donkeys, making use of a wide road, with over 500 steps, each set apart at a distance and with the road already sloping downward. There are countless switchbacks on the road, and because there are so many donkeys coming and going you have to be careful where you step. And it smells like donkey. It ended up taking me 45 minutes to walk down the cliff, but that’s only because I stopped to take pictures along the way. I think it would have ordinarily taken about 20 minutes. By the time I got to the port, it was 10:30 and I decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing on the ship. I caught the next tender back and the seas were even rougher than a few hours ago.

Once back on the ship, I had some breakfast, and then decided I needed a shower because I had the smell of donkey all around me. My clothes, my shoes, my skin. After that, I grabbed my iPod and my book and headed for the pool. But I didn’t sit out in the sun today. I chose a shady spot and planted myself there instead, in order to give my skin a rest for the day. At the pool that I was at, they play music and I find that distracting when trying to read, so I didn’t even try. I put on my iPod and reclined in my chair, and proceeded to fall asleep for the next hour and a half or so.
After that I proceeded to go down to deck 7, where you can sit outside, facing the port, in comfortable chairs and in silence. In fact, there was no one else there. I managed to get some reading done.

I headed back up to the pool at around 2 PM and had a hot dog, fries, and an “ultimate” Mai Tai. I sat around until 3 PM and then decided to go back to my cabin to relax for a while. I was tired and needed some rest. Before heading back to the cabin, I stopped at the ice cream bar and got myself a chocolate shake to take with me.

Once in my cabin, I decided to watch the DVD of Rocky Balboa that I’d brought along with me. When that was over, I did some miscellaneous tasks, checked email and then got ready for dinner.

Dinner tonight was the chef’s sampler menu, where the executive chef of the ship chose some of his favorite dishes and built a menu of them. I ended up having this excellent cream of mushroom soup, strawberry sorbet, and Alaskan King Crab legs. I was too stuffed for dessert, believe it or not. But dinner was not all roses tonight, and to explain, I shall have to make a slight detour, so bear with me.

This involves rough seas and donkeys. First the rough seas. I’d mentioned that the seas were rough due to the winds and that the winds were picking up throughout the day. Sometime around 2 PM, it was announced that tender service to the island was being halted because of dangerous conditions. (Lesson: for those of you who go to Santorini on a cruise, go early!) A few hours later, the halted tender service from the island to the ship, stranding about 800 people on the island for several hours.

The people at the table next to ours were among those stranded. Our dinner seating began at 6:15 PM, but those people didn’t get back to the ship until nearly 7 PN (they’d been waiting in line since 4 PM!) so they were late for dinner. They came to the dining room in the clothes they wore on the island, which were not your appropriate dinner attire, but no one blamed them because they had been stranded. Even the dining room staff was sympathetic. This is where the donkeys come in. Apparently, like I did, they decided to walk down from Fira. This involved stepping in and around lots of donkey droppings. With the wind, stuff blows everywhere and gets on everything. So when they got into the dining room and finally settled down, it gradually began to smell like donkey. You could almost see the stench wafting off their t-shirts. This happened at about the time our crab legs were served, and the smell was so overpowering, that it really made the crab legs difficult to enjoy. But what can you do? These things happen!

Jen and Jason wanted to go out drinking tonight because we are at sea all day tomorrow and could stay out late and sleep in late. Also, we turn back the clocks tonight so we gain an hour because we are crossing time zones again. I decided to go out with them but I didn’t want to drink too much or stay out too late. I ended up have a beer and two shots of Jaeger. I finally headed back to my cabin at around 10:30 PM.

We are at sea tomorrow and I imagine that the pools will be very crowded. I may pay the $10 fee to make use of the “Sanctuary” which is a special, quiet, adults-only area of the ship. I’ll see how crowded it really is. I also have my last massage tomorrow at 4:15 PM. Our next stop will be Naples on Sunday and there, I have an all-day hiking tour of Vesuvius and Pompei; it is the most rigorous tour that they offer and it is the one that I have been most looking forward to.