Don’t Look Down, You Are On Santorini

After two weeks staying in the little town of Naousa on the Greek island of Paros, it was time to go home. Actually departure time was sooner than I expected as I discovered that there were no morning ferries to the island of Santorini where I had a flight booked in the afternoon. So I had to leave a day early and do some telephone accommodation searching. The wonderful island of Paros is more remote than it looks on the map but that, maybe, is part of its charm.

I was determined not to let this early departure spoil my holiday so I looked at the twenty four hours in Santorini as a new adventure and boarded the ferry for the three and a half hour voyage through The Cyclades archipelago as an enjoyable part of the expedition.

On board, I found a seat with a view and watched as we sailed away from Paros keeping our distance from the infamous Portes Islets where the ferry Express Samina sunk ten years ago with the loss of 82 lives. The captain is still in prison charged with manslaughter and negligence after the ship crashed into these distinctive rocks just outside Pirakia harbour whilst the crew were watching a football match on television.

The ship still lies at the bottom of the sea but I am told that lessons have been learnt and no ferries are now allowed to go anywhere near these rocks and, for certain, none of the crew were going to be watching the World Cup matches on board.

I am enough of a pessimist though to have kept my eye on the safety equipment just in case and I always sit near the life boats.

My voyage was uneventful and enjoyable as we chugged slowly through the Aegean in the heat of a very sunny Greek afternoon.

Santorini is the most southerly of the Cycladic islands and the only one to have an international airport. It is also a pretty spectacular place with its very own volcano which is still active even if it has been dormant since the 1950s when it last erupted. The island however shows all the signs of volcanic activity with its black sandy beaches and dark volcanic rock formations aping the movement of those dramatic lava flows of earlier times.

In fact the Santorini volcanic eruption that occurred some time around 1500 BC was the second largest since the evolution of man. It transformed the geography of the Aegean Sea and may well have put an end to the Minoan empire when its huge tsunamis devastated islands throughout the area. It also made Santorini towns the most alarmingly perched centres of civilisation that I have ever visited. Many of the buildings quite literally sit on the cliff edges defying the fates to topple them over into the sea.

Ferry disasters and volcanic eruptions were on my mind when I arrived in this extraordinary place which also saw a devastating earthquake in 1956 which destroyed most of the capital, Fira, where I had a room for the night.

Fira is altogether different to anything I had encountered on Paros. It is busier, brasher and unembarrassed about its role as a tourist centre.

The streets are lined with everything you could possibly want if your interests centre round souvenirs or t-shirts and the clubs only really get going between 1.00 and 6.00 am. I wasn’t sure that I was going to succeed in enjoying this place.

I was booked into the San Giorgio Hotel which was hidden away down a side street but which I discovered was only a couple of minutes walk from the heart of the town. I was prepared to have a quiet time in advance of my flight home to England so I was happy to check into my room with its balcony over-looking some residential houses and what sounded like a music school where some very industrious students were playing Bach violin sonatas whilst an old lady was hanging out a long line of men’s clothes on her balcony’s washing line. Sitting there in the evening sunlight and listening to the music of Bach, I decided that this was going to be fun.

It was all helped enormously by the enthusiastic hospitality of the hotel’s owner Yourgos, who had picked me up from the harbour and went to a lot of trouble drawing maps of where I could go and what I should do. He even struggled to stop me lifting my very heavy case. He could charm even the gloomiest soul away from thoughts of earthquakes, volcanoes and shipwrecks.

He also told me that I could use his roof for my kung-fu practice. Suddenly I was at home again and my spirits rose even further when the late afternoon light added its clear blue to a geometrical composition of architecture and washing that just had to be photographed.

He must have been a martial arts sympathiser because on the staircase up to the roof was a mural of Ancient Greek boxers just to put me into the mood.

Up on the roof, that evening and the following morning, I did my martial arts exercises, White Crane Kung-fu – here a straight sword pattern –  feeling that I was on top of the world…and, judging by the view, I think I really was up on a level with Mount Olympus. 

All I had to do now was to decide what to do with my one evening on Santorini. You have probably already guessed that it involved dinner and alcohol and you would be right but where to indulge was the question.

I had not expected though that the bars would be quite so spectacular or quite such a challenge to anyone with even the slightest sense of vertigo.

Look one way and it is a classic Greek cocktail bar with dutiful waiters and an absorbing drinks menu but turn the other way and you are sitting with one of the most sensational views any restaurant in the world could offer.

Eventually, after a couple of glasses of ice cold Greek beer, I even looked down at the sea below and managed to resist the urge to jump.

Luckily my mind was diverted from diving by a Greco-American couple at the next table. Costas and Diane Touliatos-Miles are fellow website publishers ( and we soon got talking about Greek’s place in the modern world now that the euro crisis was calling for change.

Diane is a professor of musicology at the Missouri-St Louis University specialising, as you do, in Fourteenth Century Byzantine music and her husband, Costas is an economist and evangelist for all things Hellenic in his now native United States. They were my last travelling companions on this adventure in Greece and they were excellent sound boards for my early impressions of this absorbing country. They had plenty of far from obvious things to say about the relationship between Greece and America and Britain. I shall be visiting their website in the now natural way that travelers who meet in strange places can stay in touch in the much smaller virtual world.

After dinner I walked up the steps to the highest point in Fira not really realising that what I had considered to be high up was only really the beginning of a climb that seemed to take me up above the clouds, if there had been any, just as darkness fell.

That night I dreamt of, yes I am afraid so, earthquakes, volcanoes, shipwrecks and plane crashes
but none of the disasters came my way and, just maybe, it was all due to reading too much Homer and his epic about man as the plaything of the gods. I am now safely at home, away from Zeus’ unpredictably pointing finger and Poseidon’s watery wrath. Here in leafy but not nearly so sun-drenched England, my little rose garden has gone quietly wild in my absence but my love affair with Greece has only just begun. Was that a roll of thunder I heard just then?

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