It's our last day on Santorini and we're trying to see as much of it as we can. Having spent time in the south, we're going to head up to the north where all the tourists hang out. Part of me is not looking forward to fighting the crowds, but another part wants to see what all the fuss is about, and whether the views are as good as everyone's Instagram pictures make it out to be...
Setting out for the north in the late afternoon
We've heard the best time to visit the towns of Fira and Oia are in the late afternoon and evening. Since the towns are western-facing, they get a fabulous view of the setting sun as it dips below the Aegean Sea. Since this is actually the longest day of the year, the sun is due to set at 8:40PM. So to avoid having to wait around a long time, we head out in the late afternoon.
Also, we leave late because we are lazy. Which is why we wasted the whole of yesterday and this morning lazing at the pool instead of exploring. Well, I don't think it was wasted...
Lazing around the hotel pool is a popular activity, even in Fira
Our first stop is in Fira, right in the middle of the island on the western coast. It's Santorini's commercial capital and is where most of the touristy shops, restaurants and bars are.
And blue-domed churches as well
Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist in the background
These pyramids of church bells are a popular sight around Santorini, as seen through this street vendor's awning
The narrow streets are packed with stalls selling souvenirs and trinkets
A glimpse at some of the older un-renovated buildings
More pyramided church bells in front of an impossibly blue sky
This is all you see when you look up in Fira.
We walk to the edge of town and peer over the cliff's edge
And see a flotilla of gigantic cruise ships in the Aegian waters
These cruise ships remind me of Imperial Destroyers, with Tie Fighters buzzing around them, taking Imperial Tourists to and from the islands on nefarious business. Step off the cruise ships. Join the Rebellion!
If you look at a picture of Santorini, the fetus shape is actually the eastern part of a caldera of a volcano that erupted 3600 years ago, roughly the Bronze Age of human history. It is the largest known volcanic eruption in recorded history. More Greek mythology trivia: The people that inhabited the islands at the time were called the Minoans, after King Minos, the name of which later spawned the myths of Theseus, the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Minos... Minotaur...
Well, *I* found that interesting...
Anyway, that little island off the coast of Fira is actually another dormant volcano called Nea Kameni, right in the middle of the Santorini caldera. It's erupted 8 times in the last 2000 years, the last time as late as the 1950s. Tourists from Santorini and the cruise ships take boats over to hike around the lip of the volcano. It's dormant, people. Not inactive!
Stunning views of the inside curve of the Santorini caldera from the cliffs of Fira
There's a hiking trail that goes from Fira down to the bottom of the cliff.
Or you can take a horse if you're as lazy as I am...
Different kind of horse
I saw this guy walking around Fira. It's like he had a camera glued to his face.
He just couldn't stop taking pictures of everything
Church with a view
Hard to see where the sky meets the sea. Everything is the same exact colour as the blue domes of the churches.
I slipped my camera though the gates to take a picture of this swanky hotel
Fira is the place you go to if you want to live large. Any vacation resort advertising "Caldera Views" automatically triple the price of other similar accommodations that were on our side of the island - the ones only offering "Sea Views".
These "Caldera View" resorts started at €700/night!
I don't know if it's worth €700/night, but that view though! Santorini has no other industry other than tourism. They make almost all their money during high season and everything basically shuts down during low season. The prices on the island are probably slashed by half or more during shoulder season.
We had fun exploring all the narrow staircases that led to Fira's balconies and restaurants lining the top of the cliffs
Some of the swanky places had fancy faux-doors
Glimpse of Darth Vader's cruise ship in one of the stairways leading down
Amazing! The blue on the domes lines up with the sea and sky perfectly! Very aesthetic.
The sun was getting lower in the sky and it was time to head out to our final destination for the evening. Oia is on the northern tip of the crescent that is Santorini. This is the Instagram capital of Europe. Any serious hash-tagger must take a selfie in front of a blue dome in Oia at sunset. It's actually in the terms and conditions when you sign up for Instagram.
A race against the clock. Unfortunately for us, the GPS takes us along the back way from Fira to Oia
It takes me a while to realize we are going the long way. The sun is quickly sinking and we have to get to Oia to get our perfect sunset picture! Where the heck is this road taking us? They will delete our Instagram account if we don't get this picture! Pressure!!!
We get to Oia with a little less than an hour before sunset. Finding parking is a nightmare and when we walk into town, we run smack dab into a wall of people. It seems like half of Europe had the same idea we did. There is barely any room to breathe, let alone try to make our way through town to the edge of the cliff. Instead of a pretty sunset, all we're going to be seeing is the back of thousands of tourists' heads.
I wish I had a selfie stick so I could beat a path through the crowd with it.
Slowly making our way to the end of town at the cliff's edge
Oia is a very pretty town, less commercial than Fira. It seems much smaller, with not as many souvenir shops and blue-pool-covered resorts. It has a lot more bohemian cafes and art galleries. It's the perfect place for granola backpackers and hipster tourists to catch a romantic sunset. All twenty-thousand-million of them...
Eventually we get to a spot where we can at least catch a glimpse of the sea. The crowd is the most dense right at the very tip of Oia. These people must have been sitting there for hours before sunset to reserve their spot. We get to a certain point and then it was impossible for us to move any further.
This sucks! I really hate crowds. I hate being here during high season. Even though the weather is kinda perfect.
This is what all those lovely Santorini instagram photos don't show... wall-to-wall tourists!
Bah. We get our Santorini picture for Instagram. Hopefully they do not delete our accounts because of no blue dome behind us.
We figure it's the exact same sunset no matter where you are sitting anywhere in the island. So we throw our butts in reverse gear out of the sea of people, back into the centre of Oia, to find somewhere with more breathing room. Fed up of crowds.
Bye bye, professional Instagrammers. You win this time! We'll be back during low season...
Back in town, here's a blue dome. We'll photoshop ourselves and a sunset in later
We just want to flee the crowds and find a quiet place to enjoy the sunset all by ourselves. We wander the streets of Oia as the sun makes it way to the horizon. There is no unoccupied quarter in the city, so we just sit on a rooftop with a whole bunch of other people and slowly watch the sun go down.
It is a beautiful sunset, regardless of the throng of tourists surrounding us
As (very) slow overland travelers, we rarely move in tandem with that sweet spot of ideal weather as it migrates from the northern hemisphere, over the equator to the south and then back north again. Instead, we only catch high season wherever we are perhaps once or twice a year as it slowly approaches us from behind and then quickly blows past us.
Most of the time, we find ourselves traveling in the shoulder season or low season for tourists. We don't mind that much. We're not reliant on the availability and frequency of public transportation, it's way easier on our budget and best of all, we don't have to fight our way through the hordes.
So it's entirely by happenstance that we're in one of the most touristy places in Europe at the peak of its high season. The conditions are just perfect. There's not a cloud in the sky and the hot, sunny weather just begs for you to spend a day at the beach. But the crowds though...
Good evening, Oia. Hope to see you again when there's less people around...