The four surprising things about a Santorini sunset

So you made it to Santorini.

You flew half-way around the world, changed flights in Athens and were surprised that there was such a huge plane could land in a decidedly small island with a minuscule of an airport.

Hired a car and drove into Oia — the village to be in, for a beautiful sunset in Santorini.

You find that the famed Santorini sunset is visible best from the top of the ruins. Aren’t you glad that you booked your hotel right opposite the ruin so when the sunset comes around, you can quickly walk up to the ruins. Then you decide to explore the village because the sunset is 4 hours away.

You start walking back about 90 minutes before the sunset and notice that tourists (including yourself) are making bee-line like ants towards the ruins and suddenly you are stopped a good 5-10 minutes away from the ruins because the ruins are full.

Surprise 1: Byzantine Ruins can get full!

Ruins are full – what do you mean? That’s crazy talk and we are 90 minutes away from the sunset.

You pull out the “I stay in the hill across the ruins” and get walking towards the ruins area. That’s where the craziness hits you. This is why tourists are here – Sunset in Santorini!! Every square inch of land is taken over by tourists.

You enjoy the sunset from your hotel.

Surprise 2: Fights break out to enjoy the sunset

The next evening, you find a spot way below the ruin that isn’t visible to people who don’t stay in your hotel — good choice with the hotel again! Only to bump into a National Geographic photographer who isn’t too happy that you are there. You strike a friendship and then you hear him say that, last evening, he was at the ruins three hours before the sunset and still was booted out by some boorish Chinese tourists just before the sunset.

Surprise 3: Brides everywhere near the hotels in Oia

So you stand at the hill overlooking the hotel. The sun is decidedly not going to show up from behind the clouds and so you start looking for interesting subjects.

Are those asians…women in bridal trousseau?

Yes they are! Holding up a veil with a camera man and a few other helpers helping click the perfect picture. The groom meanwhile is resignedly enjoying his beer.

Funny!

Surprise 4: Chinese brides are at every good sunset point

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The next evening it gets better. As you head towards the “Three bells of Oia” for a sunset picture. You see not one or two but three entourages of Chinese (I asked) getting their pictures clicked. Brides walking around with their trousseau. Every moment scripted by the photographer.

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They completely missed the sunset because they were busy clicking pictures for posterity and were missing from the present moment. Santorini

Perhaps the only unsurprising part was that the moment, the sun set, everyone of them turned around got in the car and got the hell out of the place.

A sad commentary on the nouveau riche tourist traveling around the world to sample the best but displaying a behavior that demonstrates neither respect (fight for a picture) nor the desire to truly enjoy the place that they are visiting — it’s all about a Facebook post.

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For the record, here is what they missed post sunset. Santorini

The sunset itself — gorgeous if it shows up!
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(this post is re-printed from blueorangeart.com)

Oia, Santorini – beauty with heavy cardio

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View from Byzantine Ruins

(If you rather see the pictures, here they are)

Days 3, 4 and 5 in Santorini – Oia, Imerovigli and rest of Santorini

After 2 days in Fira (day 1, day 2), we moved to the jewel of the Santorini island – Oia.

Describing Oia in a blog post is very easy – we went to Oia and stayed there for 2 days :-). Because there isn’t anything else you do in Oia — you get there and enjoy it.

On the other hand, Oia is a place where tourists line up 3 hours before a sunset to see it. Often, tourists duke it out to get the best picture of the sunset. Chinese brides (more in another blog) walk around in their wedding dresses to take their dream wedding picture.

Beauty against the contrast of heavy cardio workout in a hot, humid environment is how I remember Oia.

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Oia is not for weak knees, you are either climbing up or you are going down and that in the humidity of the island is a killer. What is amazing is that each hotel has a porter that makes this trip multiple times a day with bags on their shoulders or on a dolly.

 

Gaining the conditioning and strength of a Oia porter is my ideal health goal now. Perhaps time to move to Oia :-).

Sunset in Oia – Byzantine ruins

Oia is at the edge of the island with the Byzantine ruins jutting out at 45 degrees on one side of the island. The Byzantine ruins is the place that you wait up for the sunset.

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It is packed at sunset time! Officials close access to this part of the island about an hour before the sunset.

I was told by a national geographic photographer that he reached 3 hours before the sunset and then a fight started right before the sunset and he couldn’t capture the pictures.
My recommendation is to go past the ruins and take the steps to go to the port and stop mid-way to get pictures of the sunset. This is where we got the pictures to the sunset. Santorini

Oia port Some people take the cruise that starts on the other side of the island to catch the sunset. The cruise brings them near Oia port where they hang around like a bunch young punks and then break up as soon as the sunset is over. I heard that the boat ride is choppy. We unfortunately had a couple of days of greyed out skies and didn’t quite get a great picture. That said, it is surreal to hear whole bunch of tourists clap for the sunset. I couldn’t but help think that most people wouldn’t care two hoots for sunsets whichever city that they come from and here in Oia, we had them clapping for a no-show sunset.

View from Byzantine Ruins – Windmills and Imerovigli

The view from the ruins is gorgeous. You see the famous windmills on one side and the town of Imerovigli on the other. I really loved walking from the ruins to the windmills (a 15 minute low cardio work out :-)). Santorini

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The walk around in Oia is gorgeous.
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We had dinner in a beautiful spot called Thalami and loved the food and the restaurant staff.
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Imergovigli town is mid-way between Fira and Oia and pretty non descript but with an easy access to Fira bells and some good food.

Staying in Oia and Imerovgili

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We stayed in Oia Mare in Oia which is near the base of the windmills and overlooks the ruins. The hotel has rooms which are like the traditional caves of Oia is fantastic, the people managing the hotels are fantastic, the views are fantastic too.
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I will highly highly recommend staying here.

We stayed in Senses Boutique hotel in Imergovigli, which has a fantastic view of the Calderra. Unfortunately for us, my wife got allergies to something in the hotel. The hotel staff changed our rooms and things got better but not that much.
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I captured some great sunset pictures on the way to Fira from Imerovigli. The three bells of Fira is the best place to capture the Santorini sunset – better than Oia.

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Other parts of the Island – Lighthouse, Red Beach and Perissa Beach

The lighthouse and red beach are an interesting touch point but you wouldn’t miss much if you didn’t head there. The next picture is a stop over point just before the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is unimpressive.

Santorini We stopped at the Vylachada port where you take the cruises. It was a fairly small port and we were quite surprised to see how small it was.Santorini

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Perissa beach on the other hand had a very nice laid back feel to it. Santorini

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This is where we truly felt that we had hit the island life :-). We headed to a dive restaurant called Tranquillo and truly felt tranquil – perhaps it was the beer :-).
Santorini The drive to the other side of the island has numerous bakeries on the way. At one spot, we saw a group of painters and the funny thing was that all the paint marks on their clothes were Oia white because there are no other colors used.

No colors – a terrible life as a painter!

There are numerous shops with local artists along the drive and we visited a few of them and bought some unique island pottery. Santorini

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Summary of Santorini trip

Santorini with the towns of Oia, Fira, Imerovigli is a fantastic place to visit and I’d say the hype matches the actual experience. Santorini

Harpreet’s Newsletter #6 – Wonderful Santorini

Hello,
So I was on a 2 week vacation — my first in 15 years! Thoroughly enjoyed visiting new places and reading a lot — book notes to come in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I decided to take it easy on the blog writing for those weeks and I will get back to it starting this week. Meanwhile, here is what is worth sharing this week.

  1. [Travel] Day 1 in Santorini Fira, Day 2 in Santorini — Walk to Three Bells of Fira
  2. [Productivity] An article that recommends you to split your day into a makers and a managers schedule

Thanks for reading this newsletter, if you liked it forward it to a friend or tweet me some love. If you like to read more, past issues here.
– Harpreet

Day 2 Santorini – Walk to Three Bells of Fira and wonderful Oia

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The three bells of Fira

This blog is part of a series of blogs (day 1 in Fira) to plan a trip on Santorini. The series first appeared on blueorangeart.com.

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Calderra dinner view

The first day in Fira definitely got into the island mode after a gorgeous sunset and dinner overlooking the Caldera.

We decided to head to the Three Bells of Fira which is part of the iconic church that is often used in pictures.

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Church on the way to Fira

This walk is beautiful and starts through the shops of Fira and starts on a gradual slope upwards and soon the slope becomes steeper. There aren’t too many directions and everybody is generally walking up the slope in the direction of a different Fira church that comes in practically the first 10 minutes.

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Walk upto the first church
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Cave Shop

On the back side of the church there is a boutique shop that is supposedly very popular called “The cave” – we stopped here for about 10 minutes and soaked in the atmosphere. There are directions on the church wall to head to the 3 bells of Fira.

We quickly moved on. The rest of the walk is on the edge of the cliffs with gorgeous views of the Caldera and the villages Firastefani and Imerovigli.

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Firastefani in the distance
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The famous rock of Imerovigli

There were lots of tourists and lots of nice places to take pictures on the way to the bells.

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We finally reached the bells, took our fair share of pictures and walked back. IMG_7146

The total round trip for the walk is about 2-3 hours, you can do it much faster but why would you :-)?

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Heading to Oia

After the trip, we were all stoked up to head to Oia. The drive from Fira to Oia is about 45 minutes and goes through the mountains and all going up. There is very limited parking in Oia and after some back and forth with the hotel, we finally found the Post office where we parked our car. The post office is the meeting point where the porters from the hotel pick you up and take you to the hotel. I will skip the walk to the hotel and the hotel itself for the next blog.

We spent most the afternoon cooped in the hotel room because of the bright sun and heat. We did walk around Oia for about an hour or so. It is a very small town and about an hour and you get the end to end picture of the town.

The Oia sunset experience is why people head to Oia and the best spot is on the top of Byzantine ruins. What they don’t tell you is the amount of people on the top of the ruins and people start queuing about 3 hours before the sunset — which in the heat of Oia is a bit crazy.

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I skipped the ruins because I was standing on the top of our hotel roof which is part of the charming view from the ruins — so I definitely missed the view on the first day. However, we ended up making good friends with a few people from around the world. The topic starter was the crazy traffic on the ruins :-).

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Boats coming in for the sunset


There were too many clouds and the sunset experience was a bit underwhelming to be honest. Nevertheless the location was unbeatable!

The poor, poor donkeys of Santorini

Donkeys of Fira
Is that the happy donkey?

One of the things that Santorini is known for, is, donkeys. You cannot really miss them on t-shirts, refrigerator magnets and stuffed toys that show these cute loveable creatures smiling away and living the island life.

A thing to do in Fira is to take a donkey to climb up the 588 steps to the old ferry port.

I was somewhat unhappy to see activity because I support a donkey charity (yes that’s a thing and read the inspiring story of Jean and Bob behind this charity) and find the act of putting a human on a donkeys back inhumane.

I have learnt while supporting Asswin that the general perception that donkeys can really take any absurd amount of weight is wrong and most donkeys end up suffering a broken back. Once an animal has a broken back, they are discarded to die. Note: this is the truth in India and I have no data to say that this happens in Santorini and to an untrained eye(read mine), the donkeys indeed looked healthy.

The second issue is that donkeys aren’t sexy enough or worse yet, they are the butt of jokes which means that there is no charity (except Jean & Bob) who even try to do the work of rescuing and rehabilitating these creatures. This work is really done to help who aren’t helped by anyone else.

But back to the story.

I was out and about for my morning Santorini pictures and I saw a man tying garbage bags in front of the restaurant I had been to previous night. This is where I began to think about garbage disposal in Santorini. The steps are steep, way too steep for humans to pick it up and garbage trucks might not make it to all places. So how do they do it?

Coming from Silicon Valley, I was trying to figure the technological solution to the problem.

 

Donkeys of Fira
Couple of bags – thats a good enough load

Whilst I was trying to figure the puzzle out — I saw a couple of guys bringing their donkeys along. This was 5:30 am in the morning and there was no one on the roads except for me and a few stragglers heading back to their rooms after a night out.

 

The donkey handler stop in front of the restaurant I was in and start loading the donkey. 1 bag… 2 bags…3 bags — he kept going on and on.

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t keep a count because I was busy watching the face of the donkey.

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maybe a few more

 

This donkey was about 2 feet away from me and the face was one of utter hopelessness. The face became further grim with every additional bag that landed on its back and somewhere along a tear streamed down its eye :-(.

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Perhaps we will stop now?
Donkeys of Fira
Just look at the insane load on its back!

 

Once fully loaded, it had some difficulty finding its footing on the steep steps and along it went on the steps of Fira.

Donkeys of Fira
wobbly footing – this is too hard!

Quietly, uncomplainingly, having done the job of keep the town clean for tourists like me to come in and click pictures.

Donkeys of Fira
off he goes with the insane load

I don’t quite fault the handlers who are busy earning their livelihood — this is so much better than the horses of Iceland where they end up on the dinner table.

But the question is…

At what point will humanity evolve where animal rights equal to human rights. At what point will humanity evolve such that animals aren’t seen as a commodity to be cut, sliced, diced and milked.

What needs to happen to get us to a point where we are even ready to have a conversation that animals need to be treated humanely and I mean treated and not killed humanely.

Seeing the donkeys in Santorini was heart breaking but what made the heart break brutal was to realise that all I could do is write a blog about this fully well knowning that not a whole lot of people will even bother reading it.


(originally published on blueorangeart.com)

Day 1 in Santorini – Charming Fira

This blog is part of series of 8 days in Greece specifically Cyclades islands of Santorini and Mykonos.

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Fira, Santorini

 

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Santorini sunset from the air

 

 

Fira in Santorini is the “it” town and this is where the tourists head to. Our driver dropped us off near the main square after picking us up at the airport and I was taken aback to see the number of tourists in the main square.

It seemed like Goa!

We dropped our luggage in the hotel which was a minute away, got some dinner and walked around the Fira streets which are charming.

What to expect in Fira

 

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On the donkey walk

Expect beautiful charming streets, full of tourists and shops. Lots and lots of restaurants, bars and clubs. Clubs are not my scene so I will skip commenting except to say that I saw tourists girls walking on the street at 5:30 am in the morning after a night of partying. Oh yes another one — the first night here, we could hear the bass from the club next doors upto 3 am!

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The best place to take a picture. Rastoni restaurant

 

 

That aside, the town is charming — to say the least.

Day 1 in Fira – Things to do

Old Ferry Port

Total time – 3 hours
Fira We walked up west to go down to the old ferry port and we were completely blown away by the sight of the caldera – I don’t think pictures do justice to this view.

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Caldera

 

 

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View from the donkey walk

 

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588 steps – strenous!

 

 

Anyways, the walk to the old ferry port is called the 588 steps to the port. It is quite a steep walk down with plenty of opportunities to click pictures of the caldera.

Turns out that donkeys are quite the thing in Santorini and this path had tourists coming up on these donkeys. I support a donkey charity in India and had an unhappy look watching the donkeys lugging humans up the stairs.

The walk down is strenuous and the end reward was a beer. Well not quite – I ordered an Ouzo (dry anise flavoured aperitif) thinking it was a beer and was pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The island life

 

We hung around for an hour. Clicked pictures and took the cable car up where we spent more time clicking pictures. Fira

 

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Fira Fira

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Kamari Beach

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Total time – 4 hours

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We rented a car and headed down to Kamari beach. Alex (our car rental guy) told us that don’t trust Google and just follow the directions on the road. It was surprising to see how much we have come to depend on Google maps that it was difficult to adjust to signs on the road. That said, it wasn’t too difficult finding our way to Kamari beach — after all it was less than 5 miles away :-). The walk around Kamari definitely reminded me of Goa. Tourist lined shops and restaurants right next to the beach.

The beach doesn’t have sand but black rounded rocks.

Lots of tourists sunbathing around here.
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FiraWe grabbed lunch at an eatery and spent time feeding some lovely cats. My wife is afraid of cats and on this trip she has started becoming friends with some. We then drove back to Fira.

 

Pampering ourselves in Fira
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We walked around stores and my wife decided to get her hair done at Stellas while I decided to get a fish manicure. If you haven’t done it before I recommend it.

It’s mind-bending to see that rather than you eating a fish, the fish eats you :-).

 

Evening sunset and dinner in Fira

As the evening wore on, we headed back up the steps and to watch the views of the Caldera. It was a foggy evening and we didn’t quite have the sunset but the view itself was worth it.

We ended up going to a restaurant called Rastoni which has fantastic views, restaurant staff and food. I loved them! While writing this blog, I found out that they are really highly reviewed.

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My personal highlight in Fira

WhileFira waiting for the sunset, I happen to meet this gentlemen who clearly was 80+ and selling post cards to make a living :-(. He could barely walk and I saw him make his way towards me but I wasn’t quite sure if he was going for the view or coming in for me. After taking about 3 minutes to cover a 10 feet distance, he uttered the word “postcard” and I bought one.

I saw him sit down tired with evidently more work to do for the evening. We approached him and asked if we could buy his entire post card collection which was less than 20Euros and he was elated. He was so happy to do a picture with me.

Fira It’s heartbreaking to see that he has to hustle so late in life — life’s not fair. At the same time, I noticed how incredibly blessed and happy I felt to just bring a smile on his face. Note to self – need to do more to help old people and animals!

Airport to Hotel

We got our hotel to arrange for a pickup from the airport. The charge was 25 EU for 2 person. This was a mini-bus with other passengers along and the ride to Fira was about 25 minutes. The driver insisted on taking payment after dropping us which is not what the hotel had told us. The Hotel person (Elaine) was surprised himself and was going to check back.

Accommodation and Car Rental in Fira

We are staying at the Hotel Tataki (booked from booking.com). The hotel staff specifically Elaine (from Albania) has been really good. This is as central in Fira as you can get – the Caldera is about 2 minutes walk up, the cable car is about 5-7 minutes away, the main square is 2 minutes walk down. Fira
You step out from the hotel and you are in the middle of a bustling tourist street.

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Loved it!

They helped us organise car rental with …. (to be updated). Alex who rented the car out was absolutely delightful to deal with. He sat us down, oriented us to Santorini, things to drive around and see. The car itself – a hatchback was $47 Euro/day with complete insurance coverage.

I would highly recommend both the hotel and the car rental company.


(originally posted on blueorangeart.com)