Monday, 21 April 2014

A Bit of a Cliffhanger

This is the first post about our trip to Santorini. Just for a change though, I'll put some of the photos at the top...

I rather liked the fact that this woman's hat looks like the domes of those churches that are dotted about the place!

I can be arty with the best of them...
Not long after we arrived here on Naxos, we thought it would be a good idea to ask Georgia, our landlady, whether it would be feasible to do a day-trip to Santorini. Maybe during the tourist season there are excursions laid on, who knows, but in April it would be the scheduled ferries or nothing.

"Oh, I don't know. Not really," Georgia replied, with that familiar Greek shrug and slight backward nod that usually accompanies a "no". "It's too far I think," she added.

OK, so we thought maybe we would bite the bullet and stay a night. We're trying not to think about how much things cost just for a few weeks in our lives, but old habits die hard. Anyway, we decided that we'd drop by one of the ticket offices in town and ask the experts. There's a modestly sized ticket office just off the square, a mere five minutes walk up the road from our room, so we dropped by late last week to see what they'd tell us. The bloke behind the desk was a stocky, smiley kind of guy whom we took to right off the bat. After he'd asked us what he could do for us, we ventured the idea of a day excursion to Santorini and told him that we'd been advised that it wasn't a realistic proposition.

"Well, we'll see about that won't we," he replied, infusing an immediate ray of hope into our minds as he set about his computer keyboard with relish. To me it looked as though this was his mission in life. He would sit there for ages (in my imagination, at least), probably killing time by supping at his frappé, fingers poised above a redundant keyboard, just waiting for the chance to swing into action and tap furiously away in yet another quest to solve someone's dilemma of travel logistics. As he tapped, his facial expression giving nothing away, we exchanged glances in the growing hope that our quest to see Santorini would be realised.

His face still glued to his computer screen, his fingers came to a stop with a more vigorous tap than those that preceded it and he declared with great satisfaction, "Of course you can do it. Next Tuesday. How about this?"

Seeing that he'd now attracted our undivided attention, he continued, "Right! SeaJet 2 from Naxos to Santorini, departing Naxos at 11.05am Tuesday 15th, arriving Santorini at 12.15pm. Then you can get back to Naxos on the Blue Star 'Delos', which departs Santorini at 3.30pm and gets back into Naxos about two hours later. That would give you just over three hours on the island, more than enough to get a good look at Thira I'd say." His face beamed all over with that transparent expression of someone who's succeeded in his mission of solving yet another problem for an expectant client. He tore his eyes from his monitor to make eye contact with us, beaming with satisfaction. 

"Well?" he continued, "You want me to book it?"

"Hold on," we both said in unison, Y-Maria went on, "How long does it take to get from the harbour to the village, since we know that the village is hundreds of feet above the sea and not exactly right above the new harbour that they use nowadays?"

"Piece of cake," our friend replied, "it's only about fifteen minutes and there are always buses waiting for the ferries when they come in. You'll have no problems. So, are we booking it then?" He added, fingers poised and ready to press "print" for the tickets to spew out of his printer.

The long and the short of it is, we went for it - as you, of course, already know. I'm not going to tell you here how much those tickets cost though, but it did make our eyes water. The Blue Star tickets weren't expensive at all, but the SeaJet 2, because it's one of those extremely fast katamaran-type things with aircraft seats throughout and looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, cost so much that you'd have been forgiven for thinking you were buying shares in the thing. It does 38 knots, which is fast! Still, it was going to be an adventure, so what the heck, ...we did it.

On the day the weather proved to be absolutely perfect. Clear skies with low humidity and hardly any wind to speak of, making the sea like a sheet of glass, or "like oil" as the Greeks say. Arriving almost half an hour early, we strolled along the quay supping our takeaway frappés, as you do, and then spotted this tiny café at the end of the quay which made us wish we'd waited and had a drink here...

Staring at the horizon as 11 o'clock came and went, I decided to ask the two young women who were sitting in a tiny office at the end of the quay and dressed in harbour police uniforms if everything was OK, since our departure was set for 11.05 and I rather thought that the boat ought to be approaching by now. You'll appreciate how we both felt when the girls cheerfully replied, "Oh, it's about half an hour late. Should be here by 11.30."

There wasn't a lot of point telling them that we were running a tight schedule, because they'd only have looked at us "gone off" and exhibited that "you're both quite mad" attitude - and who could have blamed them? We resolved to stroll back along the quay again and return later, all the while trying to work out if we'd embarked on a very expensive total failure. 

Sure enough the SeaJet turned up at 11.30 and we were first aboard. As per usual, a bunch of passengers turned up out of virtually nowhere once the ship's gangway way lowered, but we made sure that we got there first. Once inside, the boat's salon was very busy, but we were able to find seats without too much difficulty. The place was packed with luggage crammed into every available space, having well filled the racks allocated several times over. Everywhere there were youths very inadequately dressed - from our point of view - for April. You'd have thought it was high summer from the look of most of them. There were orientals, Europeans and folk from the other side of the Atlantic, plus a generous helping of Greeks too. Considering that it was only the middle of April, we found ourselves feeling distinctly grateful that we weren't attempting this during August.

The trip went without incident and within what seemed like an instant we were approaching the Quayside at Santorini and preparing for disembarkation. I wasn't well pleased with the fact that on this boat passengers weren't allowed to go outside at all during the voyage, but as we sidled up alongside the huge quay at the bottom of an even huger (huger? Ah, well, it'll do for now) cliff, a crew-member let us out on to the modestly sized rear deck (most of which was crammed with suitcases) and I was immediately shoved violently sideways by a couple of Chinese women who seemed to think that they were entitled to be first off, irrespective of whom they injured in the process, and I use the word "injured" advisedly, they pushed me that hard.

As the gangway's electric motor started up and began to unfold, the orientals, who only came up to my chest, had another go and this time one or two of the ship's crew restrained them as they made further attempts to ram their way through the clutch of tightly packed bodies all waiting to disembark. I thought that the Greeks were a bit unceremonious about such things, but if this was representative of how the Chinese (at least I think they were Chinese, but they may have been Japanese, although we seem to have come across more Chinese during this break) carry on, remind me not to go there any time soon. I value my ribs too much.

Once on the quayside we ran the gauntlet of cafe/bars and tavernas, whose "getter inners" were competing with the "you rent one of my cars!" people for our attention, we searched for the local bus, which, fortunately, was only a few metres along the quay and rather helpfully sported a big sign saying "LOCAL BUS" right by the door. Now we'd read on TripAdvisor that the local bus drivers on Santorini weren't very friendly, so we didn't know what kind of response we were going to get when we approached the bloke standing near the bus' (once again, as in Naxos, it was what we Brits would call a coach) luggage compartment doors. 

"How long does it take to get to Thira?" I asked. The fifty-something wavy-haired, greying around the temples man in question quickly broke into to a smile and assured us "ten or fifteen minutes, hop on!" So, of course, we obeyed.

The first half of the fifteen minutes or so it takes to get from the harbour to the village we all want to see is taken up by the rather alarming climb up the sheer cliff-side from the sea level to the top of the escarpment, which slopes gently away eastward once one crests the summit. This zig-zag route up the cliff face makes most of those Pink Panther or James Bond car chase roads in the French Riviera look like a fairground ride and my beloved was soon having the driver in stitches with her cries of alarm as he rounded each of the many hairpins on the way up. Since we were first on the bus we were able to nab the front seats right above the door, so she could chat with him. I must confess that although in my manly way I didn't display any outward signs of alarm, merely asiding to my dearly beloved that "he knows what he's doing. He does this several times a day. There's no need to panic", I did "start" once or twice as he met a vehicle coming the other way and "malaka-d" a few times at the other driver's apparent incomprehension of his need for more space, owing to the length of the bus by comparison.

As we were nearing the top, but still not in sight of a level road, my wife remarked "It's at times like this you realize that you don't need much in life to be happy! Only maybe your health!" To which the driver replied "...and a little cash, perhaps, eh?"

"Yea..." I quipped, "that and a roof over your head, eh?" Our driver, warming to the subject, went in with "and of course Love, we all need a little love!" Then it was back to my wife to add "And family around us, right?" ...and so it went on, getting sillier as we climbed the sheer volcanic cliff to the top of Santorini's imposing Caldera coastline. By the time we'd reached the top we were all laughing heartily and at least it had taken my wife's mind off the prospect of plunging several hundred feet to our certain deaths on the rocks below. She's nothing if not a little melodramatic.

True to his word the bus driver was entering the one-way traffic system in Thira a scant fifteen minutes after we'd set out from the quayside. Unfortunately, since we'd been first on board the bus at the harbour, we'd already had to wait twenty minutes or so before we set out for the "village on the brink of the cliff". On account of the fact that the ferry had been half an hour and more late, we found ourselves preparing to climb down from the bus at almost 1.30pm, whereas, had the boat been on time, we'd have been in this position at more like just after 12.30pm, depending on how long we'd have waited on board the bus before departing the harbour. 

As we had to be back at the harbour for a 3.30pm departure for our return to Naxos, we still had up to one hour forty in Thira to snap lots of photos and soak up the atmosphere of the place. At least, that's what we thought, until we asked the driver what time we'd be able to catch a bus back to the quayside. 

"It leaves the bus station at 2.30," he replied. That meant we only had an hour before we'd have to get back here to the bus station if we were going to be back in time to catch our boat. It also meant that we'd be waiting at the anything but picturesque harbour for at least half an hour before setting sail back to Naxos, time that we'd hoped to have spent gazing at the awesome views in the village and out across the Caldera. 

"There's no bus later than that?" we asked. Nope, came the response from the now several KTEL employees around us, since having descended the steps of the bus we were met by a clutch of drivers and officials who were busy shepherding the hoardes this way and that. "Well," said one of these helpful chaps, "there is another bus, it leaves for the harbour at 11.30pm." Dead useful that, eh?

You know, I called this post "A Bit of a Cliffhanger", right? Well, true to its epithet, I'll leave it here and continue the gripping story of whether we made it back in time in the next post - "Cliffhanger II"!!

Bet you're on the edge of your seat now, eh? (What do you mean, "Yes, I'm getting up to leave!"?)


  1. What fantastic photos, especially the second one which seems to carry an advert for my own personal ale! I don't think you made it back in time for the ferry. Am I right?
    By the way, maybe more huge would have done for 'huger'

  2. Well? What next, the suspense is getting too much!

    1. It is under construction, but it's hard to write while you're enjoying yourself so much!! Knuckles duly rapped, I'm on it now, miss!