Monday, April 23, 2012

Greece Day 5: Santorini, OIA and Red Beach

We stayed at the hotel in Firestofani during the morning, slowly taking breakfast and enjoying the awesome and relaxing view of the Caldera. Later, we took a bus to the south of Santorini with the intention of visiting the Akrotiri ruins which reopened just one week ago. From Firestofani, just walked to Fira and took the bus there (€ 1.8 per ticket). Unfortunately, on arrival to Akrotiri, we found out that it, as all museum in Greece were closed on Monday. Boomer. We missed this one. There were a bunch of people on the same situation, and the funny thing is that nobody at the bus station in Fira told us when inquiring about the bus tickets to the excavation place.

The Red Beach is located about 20 minute walk from the Akrotiri bus stop, which by the way, is the last stop of this bus line. The beach is nice to visit if somebody has time. The color of stones is red, only on this beach. The other beaches have black sand I was told. Actually, rather than sand, they are small stones. Santorini is a great place to visit for the views, but not a main beach destination IMO.

We walked end to end of the beach, and came back to the bus stop in order to take the next bus. In total we probably spent about one hour from the time we arrived.
We drove back to the hotel in Firestofani, picked our bags, we had checked out in the morning, and continued to our next stop: OIA, also known as IA. The two ladies at the Agani Houses hotel reception called the bus line to know at what time the next one to OIA  stopped by (the bus stop is just accross the road from the hotel entrance).BTW, the hotel reception (and also rooms) are hanging of the cliff. There are about 60 steps from the street down to the hotel. It's a very good exercise, but kind of exhausting if somebody not fit has to carry the bags. Fortunately, the hotel has a porter (strong and well fit guy!) that will take care of the luggage.

While waiting the bus for OIA, which lies about 18 km. north, a cab stopped and told us whether we needed a ride. Since we were waiting for the bus, we denied, but he offered to take us for €10. This was hard to resist, and in less than one minute we were up. It was worth of it. The sun was hitting hard, and we didn't know whether the bus was going to be on time. TIP: The taxi fare is negotiable; the difficult part is to know the reference prices. But in particular in Athens, it's better to agree on a price before getting into the taxi (as I've been told by other travelers met).


The taxi dropped us at the OIA bus station, about 300 meters of the next hotel, Aethrio .

Hotel Aethrio - OIA
Hotel Aethrio - OIA

Hotel Aethrio - OIA
Hotel Aethrio - OIA

It's located behind the main church of OIA, very convenient, but it doesn't have any view from the room. However, there's a high terrace, where the receptionist told us, we could watch the famous sunset without having to deal with the croud that goes to the old castle at the north of OIA (eveything's walking distance). Since it isn't a high season for tourism, we were planning to enjoy the sunset at the famous place and not use the terrace anyway. Some highlights of the hotel:

  • Very large room
  • Nice shower
  • TV (every hotel so far had a few English channels, one Spanish channel)
  • Air conditioner and heater.
  • NO safe box in room. But the place looks very safe anyway.
  • Breakfast included . Very good and abundant. Open until 10:30am.
  • Very nice and helpful front desk.
  • Free welcome drink, either alcoholic or non (equivalent to up to €3 per guest)
  • Nice swimming pool.
  • This hotel doesn't give a bottle of water or leave one on the fridge. The front desk closes at 9pm. Therefore, remember to get something to drink as tap water isn't potable in the island.
  • Something unusual: there is a small chapel (church) lies inside the hotel.
  • Yhey have several Santorini and Athens books and tour guides on the front desk.

The way of the hotel is not paved, but with stones (not dirt). The roller bags had a hard time there, and needed to be carried. I think that the hotel offers a porter if asked, but I just took care of them. It wasn't too much for a couple of hundred meters.

After accommodating us on the hotel, we spent several hours walking all over the place. IOA is a unique and beatiful place, that pictures can't really capture it. Small streets, lots of nice views of the town . Lots of shops with high quality art works. Also, lots of souvenirs and  fine art works in this town.

The sunset view is something really unique (check my videos bellow). Lots of people gather on the north part of town at around 7:30pm, to watch the sun go down gradually. BTW, in this island, even after sunset, you get sunlight for about one hour more.

TIP: On Summer time, I heard that the place gets really packed and it's even hard to find a spot and people start gathering at about 6pm. The options would be to get there early and wait, or get  an hotel with  a view to avoid the crowd. But some of the magic of the place could get lost, unless the hotel with view is also on the north cliff , facing the sunset.

From above, we could see the small port from OIA on the bottom of the island, and lots of steps going down there.

OIA Port
OIA Port

We learned that one restaurant was open at this time (up to 3 during summer time) , and decided to walk down, take a look, and have dinner. Walking down is nice and easy, specially after sunset where you still have light but it gets cooler. The test of fitness is going back up, about 240 steps, harder with a stomach full of fish and beer.  Still, this is another must do activity for OIA. The tavern on the port is quite expensive, but some apetizers are about the same cost as above...TIP: try the fried calamari for €9, it is worth the deal.

Restaurant at OIA port
Restaurant at OIA port

OIA port
OIA port

After dark, we started our way back to the hotel. All the way back to top is iluminated, and we crossed people doing the same. In general, we felt that Santorini was safe everywhere we went, day and night. While walking back to the hotel, we noticed how many cafe (bars) are open. But not much people is seen during this time of year. Perhaps, also influenced by the economic problems in Greece which have absolutely no impact in traveler safety and experience. All the contrary, restaurants and hotels seem to be very happy to receive guests and they make an extra effort to give the visitor a good service.

After walking the whole day, plus climbing the 240 steps from the port, we were ready for a rewardining night of sleep.