Santorini is the one place we picture more than any other when we think of Greece. The towns built up and along the caldera cliffs, with their blue and white buildings, overlooking the gorgeous blue waters.
The island of Santorini lies in the southern end of the Aegean Sea, about 200km (120 mi) southeast of the mainland. It is the largest island in the archipelago of islands, all created by the volcano which lays down below.
Thira or Thera is the name of the island, although most people today, including Greeks, call it Santorini. Fira is the name of the main capital town.
I’ve wanted to try out the European discount airlines for a while. In 2012, I’d almost booked us on Ryanair from Rome to London, but the price for luggage turned the cheap fare into the same price as we could get for British Airways. This is where the discounters get you. They give you a ridiculously cheap fare, but then up-sell you on everything – I mean everything! Plus, they typically fly to smaller, more out of the way airports, which can be difficult or costly to get to and from.
Our Santorini trip turned out to be the perfect time to try out Ryanair. They fly from Athens International airport and land at the only airport in Santorini. Harold has to work Monday to Friday, so we only have weekends available to get out of town. Staying only one night and two days means we can easily just carry on a small bag that will count as a personal item (checked bags are €20 if pre-paid, or €35 at the airport) and we don’t care about pre-booking seats (€8 or €9) for a 50 minute flight. We can ignore all the other add-ons and just stick to the very cheap price of €22 each per flight, with just a surcharge for paying with a credit card (2%). Oh and I had to run down and print our boarding passes in the Hotel office because there is a €60 fee to check-in and print them at the airport.
This time of year, there is only one ferry choice – it takes 8 hours, and it is twice the price of the Ryanair airfare. That would mean we’d get there on Saturday at 3pm and leave on Sunday at 3:30pm. That would give us very limited time on the island. This is an obvious no-brainer.
Blue Star Ferry
Athens to Santorini – Departs: 7:25am Arrival: 3:10pm
Santorini to Athens – Departs: 3:30pm Arrival: 11:25pm
Total Price for 2 adults: € 158.00
Athens to Santorini – Departs: 7:00am Arrival: 7:50pm
Santorini to Athens – Departs: 7:45pm Arrival: 8:35pm
Total Price for 2 adults:€ 88.51
We had to be up at 3am on Saturday morning to get our Uber to the airport. A taxi at this time of night costs €50 (€35 during the day), but Uber was only €23. The downside of using Uber in Athens is that almost all the cars are tiny and we’d have a difficult time fitting in our two big suitcases, but for this trip, we just had overnight bags.
In North America, our flights are typically called up in sections or row numbers. We all follow along with protocol and line up in an orderly fashion when we’re called. Ryanair doesn’t have a first or business class. They charge a premium (€13 booked at home, €16 at the airport) for those who want priority boarding. They get their own line. Nobody at all lined up in this row. Actually, nobody at all lined up in any row. Everybody crowded in with each other, like a herd, and we all pushed and prodded our way to the front, where our tickets were scanned and we then pushed and prodded our way onto a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus drove us around the entire field, past all the bigger, more legitimate airlines, to the very back area, where all the cut-throat cut-rate airlines board.
Once on board, we couldn’t help but snicker a bit at our environment. The decor is all primary colored plastic, with advertising everywhere you look. I can’t really think of any way they could make the plane look more ‘bargain’ level. The seats have no seat pockets and are super close with little leg space. I can’t imagine what tall people do on them. Oh yes, I forgot – there is a fee for people taller than about 5’10”. Extra legroom costs you €15 at home or €22.50 if you get it at the airport.
As soon as we were all seated, the engines started up and we were off. The plane shook with exertion and there were funny noises coming from the gear under us. Immediately, the sales spiels began. We were still on a big incline, and the flight attendants were pushing their metal carts up the centre aisle, where they quickly locked in. First sale up was a breakfast sandwich and coffee or juice. Or perhaps you’d like a nice glass of water? There’s a charge for that.
The flight attendants raced down the aisle, slinging sandwiches and coffee as fast as they could while the man at the front called out to us like an auctioneer, selling us on the wholesome goodness of the food. Five minutes later, he segued into selling duty-free items. Today they were selling us perfume, make-up and other sundry items. He raced through his sales talk, while the attendants came down the aisle looking for orders. Then with just a pause, they moved onto lottery tickets. I think I saw more lottery tickets sold than anything else – the Greeks really love their lotteries.
Then it was time to land, and we were 10 minutes early! After a rickety landing, along the lines of our take-off, the crackling speakers erupted into a fanfare arrival song, trumpets announcing “Do-doo-do-dooooooo!” as if proud that we’d actually made it. I’ve since learned they do this every time they arrive early or on time. I also read that they pad their arrival times so they have some extra time, as evidenced by us getting there early.
This was a super quick and highly entertaining flight. Well worth the €22.
Santorini is a small island that can be driven around in a day. It has a bus system that connects all the villages and we saw a lot of people there renting scooters, however we chose to rent a car.
We only had 6 days in between racing home from another trip and flying to Greece. I love to research trips – it’s half the fun to me – but there just wasn’t enough time. I got a good deal through Kayak.com, and finalized it in Athens, just a few days before our flight to Santorini.
It wasn’t until I read the email the car rental company sent me that I realized we needed an International Drivers Licence in Greece. I kicked myself for not even thinking about it. I should have realized it or at least checked. I checked online, and found it would take 6 weeks to get anything done in Europe. If we’d still been home, we could have gone into BCAA (the provincial arm of CAA and AAA) and had our pics taken and licence purchased ($25CDN) in about an hour. Great to know for next time, but what to do now?
We went back and forth on what to do. Our hotel offered free pickup from the airport, so we knew we were covered there and we could take buses and taxis to get around the rest of the island. If we got caught driving without a licence, we might be fined for hundreds or even thousands of euros, and we might be detained until we pay. If we got in an accident, our insurance would be nullified and we’d have to pay all damages before they’d let us go.
On the other hand there’s just nothing better than being able to go off on our own, and it would hurt to waste the money, even though it was a paltry amount. I called my Mother for advice, hoping she’d say “Go for it!” but she didn’t feel she could advise me one way or the other. We eventually decided the risk was just too much, and we’d forget the car. Then we got to the island, saw the sign for our shuttle, and did a right turn to the car rental instead.
My daughter and her friend visited Greece in August 2014. This was their first trip all alone, so I built them a very in-depth itinerary. In Santorini, I booked them into Dina’s Place in Fira. They loved it, so I decided we’d also give it a try. It was clean, and pretty, with rooms based around a central courtyard and pool. The bed was hard, the pillows were thin, and the towels were very rough, but the location was great, the price was fantastic (€45) and the host was friendly and helpful – as long as you don’t take offence to sexist jokes from your parents’ (or grandparents’) generation about how women like to shop and spend all their husband’s money.
As soon as we got our bags up to our room, we went for a walk to the cliffs. Right beside our hotel, we came upon a pack of feral dogs. Just like the Athens dogs, they appear well looked after, and don’t care a thing about having my attention.
We were excited to see a Euronet ATM here, and amused to realize it is closed when it’s low season. Euronet is the company Harold has worked for the last 30 years and the reason we are here in Greece.
Ah! Breakfast on the caldera, overlooking the volcano and waterfront. This place is as beautiful as the pictures suggest.
Another dog completely disinterested in me. I should take a hint – Greek dogs are just not that into me!
I’m not sure how to feel about these guys. They fulfill a necessary job, pulling building materials up and down the cliff side. This is what they have done for a very long time, their parents and grandparents had this exact same job. They are used to it. I can’t condone the trade of selling rides up the cliff to huge and heavy tourists, but I’ll restrain my opinion on this.
Down there is where the donkeys carry tourists from. It’s also where we’ll get on our boat tomorrow to sail out to the volcano pictured below.
This volcano created all the islands in this area. It blows every 10-30,000 years. It is currently listed as dormant.
It’s winter here and the weather is a little overcast, with temperatures in the 20’s C or 70’s F. It’s my favourite weather, though I wish it could be a little clearer.
Door to nowhere? Behind the door are steps down to a private courtyard and home on the cliff.
The donkeys and mules follow along behind each other all the way up the cliff, with the herder at the back end. When they get to the top, they head straight to the vegetation in the window baskets for a snack before the human comes along and ruins the fun.
It’s off season now. Cruise ships visit March to October. That’s when the island is full of tourists and everything is going strong. There are many businesses that don’t even bother to open right now. There are enough open to support the small numbers visiting this time of year. I prefer it like this.
After our hike up and down the cliff side, we headed back to our hotel to pick up our car.
This is the main road through town. It’s up above the cliffs. At this time of year, it’s where most of the open tourist businesses are located.
Santo Wines, started in 1992, is located about half way down the island, at the top of the Caldera over the ferry port.
When we entered we were mesmerized by the huge wrap-around terrace and views beyond.
We prefer red wines but always try both and were we ever glad we did here. We were way more impressed by the white wines than the reds. These whites were exceptional and the reds were just okay.
We were amused by these tourists. They spent all their time posing and taking photos with their wine, and I didn’t see any of them take even one sip.
Along the Caldera on the south end of the island.
Left over from WWII?
Down the south end of the island, looking up to Fira, where we are staying, and Oia.
Akrotiri, on the southwest side of the island. Me taking a photo of Harold ….
While he takes these photos.
Akrotiri is a Minoan Bronze Age settlement excavated since 1967. It was destroyed in 1627BC by the Theran volcano eruption and buried in volcanic ash. This preserved the remains of many objects, frescoes and artwork. It is believed that Akrotiri was the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis.
Archaeologists have been able to trace human habitation here back to the 5th Millenium BC. At that time it was just a small fishing and farming village. Two millenium later, it had grown exponentially, developing trade relations with other islands. It’s position between Cyprus and Crete allowed them to do a healthy trade of pottery, and copper processing. They were a prosperous society, with paved streets, and an extensive drainage system.
There have been no human remains found at Akrotiri, an indication that they had time to evacuate.
The black sand beach at Perissa, on the east side of the island.
An Orthodox church up near Oia.
Yet another heartbreaking Greek dog.
Oia is at the northwest tip of the island. This is where most of the beautiful blue and white photos are taken that we see in the media. Everybody comes here for the beautiful sunsets. This will be our only chance to see one, and it is a huge disappointment. There is a bank of clouds sitting just offshore and it’s in a perfect position to turn a perfect sunset to mud.
But you can’t take the beauty out of this place.
Looking out at the crowd of people at the ruins on the cliff, I can’t stop thinking this looks like an end of the world sort of primitive thing – but it’s just a gaggle of tourists.
I watched this couple while we waited for the sun to set and could picture Harold and I staying here and spending our evenings out here on that patio, drinking wine – if only it weren’t on a tiny little island.
It truly is stupendously gorgeous.
I took photos while I waited for all these people to move on. Alas, they were too slow, and by the time they were gone, it was too dark to get a good photo.
The windmill makes up for the crappy sunset.
The location makes up for the crappy sunset.
Overnight spot: Dina’s Place
Includes: breakfast-coffee, tea, biscuits, wifi, swimming pool
Notes: My daughter and her friend visited Greece in August 2014. This was their first trip all alone, so I built them a very in-depth itinerary. In Santorini, I booked them into Dina’s Place in Fira. They loved it, so I decided we’d also give it a try. It was clean, and pretty, with rooms based around a central courtyard and pool. The bed was hard, the pillows were thin, and the towels were very rough, but the location was great, the price was fantastic and the host was friendly and helpful – as long as you don’t take offence to sexist jokes from your parents’ (or grandparents’) generation about how women like to shop and spend all their husband’s money.
A magical island but a couple of days is enough unless you want to lounge on the beach.
Yeah, I could handle some more if we’re working and travelling and settling in a bit, but vacation wise, I really think the islands are best done a few days max.