What can I say...You HAVE to go to Santorini. It is another one of these places that I've always wanted to go to, never thought I would make it, ended up making and there, and it was so much better than I could have ever imagined. Of all of our vacations, with Noah and without him, this is one of the top 3 ones...well, we say that about pretty much every trip, though ;).
We are pretty thrifty travellers when it comes to accommodation, I like it clean, close to some some supermarkets and restaurants and bars, yet still quiet, and reasonable. I will always choose a smaller family run hotel over a bigger and more fancy place that might offer "more", e.g. kid's clubs or a huge pool. A pool was so not necessary for us when we traveled as a couple, but with Noah along, a small pool is a plus; he loves a pool, that's all he asks for when we go on vacation.
In Santorini, we stayed at Hotel Levante Beach right on Kamari Beach (http://www.levante.gr/).
Great location in the town of Kamri, not right in the center of the town, but just a short walk away from it, the beach is across the little street that is open to pedestrians and some smaller vehicles that deliver stuff to the hotels and stores. Since Santorini is a volcanic island, the beach is made of dark larger gravel rocks, so for a chicken like Bob, some aquasocks might come in handy. Noah and I are beasts, we just walked barefoot. The beach isn't exactly kidfriendly, the surf rolls in pretty rough at times and it gets deep quickly. Therefore, for plain old family fun, the small pool in the hotel came in super handy!
On another sidenote, when we fly to our vacation destination, I usually book a package that includes the flights and the hotel. Most of the times, this is the cheapest and - more importantly - most convenient way to get to our destination. In the case of Santorini, we could have flown into Athens and then use a ferry to get to our island, but we figured there is so much to see and do on Santorini, so we might as well get there as quickly as possible and save Athens for a weekend trip one day. For hotels, I usually book on the cheaper side, but I make sure we can easily walk to the beach or are right on the beach, and that we maybe have a pool for Noah, cause well, as you've learned, Noah loves a pool. I couldn't care less about it. A clean room, that's all I need...
Day 1: Getting there...
Day 1 was not too spectacular. We drove to Nuernberg, parked the car in the long-term parking garage, found our flight, were in the air for about two and a half hours, were picked up at the airport, and got delivered to our hotel. Not really to the front door, it took us about 15 minutes to find the place, since the driver dropped us off in some back alley. I was pleasantly surprised by the hotel. The staff was friendly, our room was pretty big and had a nice little terrace, and it was quiet. We kind of lucked out, because some of the rooms faced a big parking lot that was busy from early morning till late at night, but we didn't notice that at all. The hotel had a decent sized pool with stairs (perfect for Noah, cause he could just hand out by the stairs and play in the water), an awesome breezy bar area from which you could see the beach and the Sea, and a wonderful upstairs terrace. There, we had breakfast every morning looking over Kamari and the Mediterranean Sea. We didn't do anything spectacular on that first day, just hung out at the beach and the pool and at the bar.
Day 2: The Sea
Day two was pretty much reserved for checking out what Kamari had to offer. Kamari is a typical beach town. Most of it has been built specifically for tourism purposes, so on the pedestrian street parallel to the beach there are plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels. There's always something to do and you can people watch all day. Even though it is pretty touristy (which is cool, cause we are tourists and we have to hang out somewhere. I don't like this attitude of "I don't want to be a tourist". Nobody wants to be "a tourist", but that's what we are when we go on a holiday), I think they did a great job of keeping it small. There is only a handful of buildings that is higher than two stories, so you don't feel overwhelmed and it doesn't feel crowded. This day was a perfect day for Noah, we went back and forth between the pool and the beach, tossed rocks in the water, Noah practiced his jump-of-big-rocks-into-the-surf skills, we had some beer and some Cocktails at the bar, and Noah devoured water melon slices. The staff at the hotel was great, as I have mentioned before, after the third serving, they'd just bring out water melon for Noah whenever we would sit down there with him. He loved it!
Day 3: A Volcano and a small Village
Well, on day three I was ready for some action. We had booked a boat tour that brought us to the lava island of Nea Kameni. Santorini is an island of volcanic origin. Remnants of the volcano can be found in the form of other islands. Nea Kameni is pretty much the still active volcano. We walked up to the volcano (it was HOT) from where we enjoyed some awesome views of Santorini. Back on the boat, we sailed on to Palea Kameni. I got to hop in the water there, there are hot springs in the water and some mud that makes you beautiful. The hot springs were great, it felt like swimming from cold Sea water into a nice comfy however sulphuric smelling hot tub. I covered myself in a little mud, but no difference, after washing it off, I still looked the same. From Nea Kameni, we went on to Thirsassia, which is Santorinis little sister island. It was such a nice change of pace; while Santorini 's larger towns are buys and full of locals and tourists, Thirassia only has one major village named Manolas and it is very quiet, peaceful, and simple. I left my boys in the port of Thirassia to climb the winding stairs up to Manolas. The village is as postcard Greek as you can imagine it, white buildings, a church with a blue dome shaped roof, and Sea views are ever present. Walking down the steps was a lot easier than going up in the midday heat. We hopped on board of our boat one last time to cruise along the Caldera, the crater cliffs, of Santorini. This is, where we caught our first glimpses of Oia, Imerovigli, and Fira.
The rest of the afternoon we did what we had done the days before, relaxed, got some drinks, and enjoyed the pool and the Sea.
Day 4: A Ghost Town, a Village build for tourists, and gorgeous Oia
This day was reserved for a half day bus tour through the northern part of Santorini that would end with watching the sunset at Oia, supposedly one of the most gorgeous sunsets ever. We started out in the early afternoon. Our first stop was the oldest church of the island, Panagia Episkopi. It sits on a little hill with beautiful views over the Eastern part of the island and is surrounded by a beautiful garden inviting you for a little stroll. Next, we visited the ghost village of Mesa Gonia. I have to say, from a photographers perspective, this village is a dream come true. If we'd go again, I'd make sure to go back there not in the middle of the day, but at sunset or very early in the morning, just to be able to catch the gloomy mood better. However, despite the fact that we walked through the narrow alleyways with a bunch of fellow tourists, it felt kind of strange to be in this deserted place where people used to live, but is now falling apart a little more every day. If I remember correctly, the people of Mesa Gonia left their village after an earthquake...Well, on we went to Pyrgos, a really pretty town sitting on a mountain which allows you to look over the whole island. Pyrgos boasts typical cycladic architecture, Byzantine churches, and a Venetian castle. In order to get to the castle, you have to navigate through the small alleys ; this is truly fantastic because there is something to discover behind every corner, interesting stairs, a door framed by some flowerpots, things like that. We made it up to the castle, and back down, got some drinks because it was hot and Noah was worn out from walking so much, and we went on to Imerovigli.
It has been built mainly for tourists along the Caldera. The views are indescribable; everything you expect from Santorini and more. Some of the most serene and expensive hotels of Santorini are located in this quiet town, but also a wonderful church with the typical blue dome roof and a bell tower. The final destination of the day was beautiful Oia, the town on the northern tip of Santorini from where you can see the Caldera cliff on one side of the town and the open Sea on the other side. The iconic image of the church roof looking over the Caldera, Oia, and Thirassia in the distance has its origin here. Walking Oia - again - is a dream come true for a photographer, heck, for anybody who wants to feel like he/she is walking on a picture perfect postcard. The place filled up as the sun began to set, and we kind of missed the sunset because we didn't quite know where the best location for sunset watching was, but also because it was hard to find our way through the crows. We had decided before that we would get a rental car after having gotten an idea on how large the island was by using a bus at firt, and this - along with Imerovigli - was my top choice for a return trip. Driving back to the hotel in the dark in the bus was something else. I always rely on the fact that bus drivers know what they are doing, that they have driving these roads for years, and that - just like me - don't want to die...;)
Day 5 The Beach & The Sunset from a Boat
In the morning, we relaxed a little from the strenuous walking we did the day before (oh, please, it wasn't that bad, but Noah acted like he ran a marathon). We spent some time on the beach, Noah ate watermelons, everybody was happy. In the evening, we went on a little sunset boat trip along the Caldera all the way up to Oia from where we watched the sunset from our boat.
Day 6 Take a Break
Today was just another beach day. I worked so hard on my tan. Exhausting.
Day 7 Amoudi...enough said!
Time for action! We finally rented a car. We first went to Fira, the little capital city of Santorini and took the funicular down to the port. We watched the cruise guests being brought to the port in small motor boats from the big cruise shops. I don't know what my deal is, a cruise just doesn't seem intriguing to me at all. The people were all hauled in, followed their tour guide like lemmings (where is my tolerance for tourists now, right?), and they would only see a tiny little bit of Santorini. I felt so bad for them ;). We did the so not touristy thing (NOT) of riding donkeys up the winding trail back into Fira. Noah and I shared a ride, it was so uncomfortable, I scraped my legs on the walls along the trail, cause the donkey doesn't care how close it gets to the rock wall as long as it doesn't affect it; the donkey does not worry about the passenger AT ALL. Noah wasn't too hooked on it either. Bob was a sight, I think his donkey had a panic attack when it realized that this big ole dude was all his. Well, our donkeys delivered us safely to Fira, so we walked a little bit around town. We then went on to Imerovigli, this time we had the town pretty much to ourselves. From there, we made it back to Oia. We decided to walk down to the port of Amoudi. What a perfect place this is. Fisher boats, rustic restaurants with a lot of flair, not too crowded, crystal clean water...We found a great little restaurant. We ate the best Saganaki we've ever had, man, Feta cheese is so out of this world tasty, and these guys prepared it so well. From the port, we walked a little further to a tiny little beach. We went up the hill back to Oia with the infamous donkeys. The LAST time ever in my lifetime. Uncomfortable, bumpy, and man, the poor donkeys, this walk is no joke! Bob found a fantastic pastry bakery and their baklava really was phenomenal! Bob and Noah hung out in the village while I secured a spot on the old fort of Oia which apparently is one of the best places to be when the sun sets. Saw the sunset, pretty cool, and drove back home. I felt a little more safe with Bob driving than in the bus ;)
Day 8 Ancient Thira and back to Oia and Amoudi
It was time for some culture. We drove up to ancient Thira with our little rental car. We've been on some scary roads in our lifetime, but holy cow, this thing made me clench my teeth, hold on tight to the car door, and close my eyes. Hmm, then again, I'm a big chicken, maybe it really wasn't that bad...Anyhow, ancient Thira sits on this humongous monolith, the view from there is great, and while strategically, it is genius to put a town up there as you can spot intruders easily, building it must have been a tremendous logistical challenge. Even though ancient Thira is pretty much in ruins, the site is well managed and gives you an idea on how small town life used to be like in ancient Greek times. Afterwards, we went back to Oia, and more specifically to Amoudi Bay, because yes, it is that beautiful. I could spend a whole vacation there and not ever venture out, and that says a lot about how special this place really is.
Day 9 The South
We had returned the car the day before, so today we went on a bus tour to discover some more of Santorini. We went on the highest mountain of Santorini, the Prophet Elias. There is also a military instillation up there as well as a monestary. Next, we went to the village of Megalochori, another one of these typical cycladic villages with narrow alleys and white houses. One of the curches there has a really interesting bell tower that spans across the tiny main street. The pace is very different than that of Oia or Fira or Kamari, it is quiet and calm and there are just a few kind of classy (not necessarily expensive) stores selling hand crafted items. The next town we went to was called Emborio. From there, we went to the beach in Perissa. Perissa and Kamari are the two main towns for the thriftier tourists, but, maybe it is because I'm biased, I think I prefer Kamari to Perissa. After lunch we went on to the Santos Winery for some wine tasting. Who liked it? I liked it! It was a pretty busy day, but in the end, we were happy to be back in our little hotel.
Day 10 Relax a little
Day 10 we spent on the beach. And we decided that we needed to rent a car one more time. We just had to go back to Amoudi and see some more of the island.
Day 11 Back to Amoudi
So, our last day we spend going back to Amoudi, to the little restaurant in the port, and walked through OIa one more time. In the evening, we went to the Caldera, but this time south of Fira, found a nice restaurant and watched the sun set there.
Day 12 Home
So, this was the day for us to go home. Noah got to swim in the pool for one last time, then it was time to check out of the hotel and take the bus back to the airport. What can I say, Noah and I both cried big old tears cause we didn't want to go home. I'm so happy that I have a vacation baby, Noah loves going on vacation, he is up to anything even when we tell him that we'll just look at old houses. And like his Mom, he never wants to go home and wishes he could stay just another day. Or two. Or a week....
Santorini really was one of the best vacations we ever went on. I know, I say this about pretty much every trip we have ever taken, but Santorini honestly was a whole different level of awesomeness. There was something for all of us, beautiful views and motives for my camera, great food for Bob, the pool and the beach and friendly people that would cater to his every need for Noah.
If you ever find yourself thinking about going to Santorini, just go for it, don't worry about the money too much, you won't remember the money you spend later, but you'll have great memories that will last forever.