As long as I (Sean) can remember, I have had a fascination with Israel. I cannot for the life of me remember when it started or why, but I have always felt a need to visit. Combine that with Lindsay’s desire to visit Jordan, we had quite the finale to our adventure. The months leading up to the trip we had heard it from all sides. Everyone who we knew had an opinion on whether or not it was a good idea to visit such a volatile region. Some people thought it would be absolutely insane to go to Israel, even leading to the question “why in the hell would you want to go THERE?” Every time I was asked that question or anything similar, I never really had a good answer. My answer always seemed to revert back to “because I have always wanted to”. That answer never seemed to be adequate for people. Most people simply accepted it because they had no choice, but it didn’t always mean they liked the decision. As more and more people created a negative environment for our plans (even though we understood it was because they loved us and didn’t want us to get hurt), it slipped to the backburner for a while. But, as we drew closer to our departure, I met with a couple of people who we both work with. One is from Israel and visits there frequently and another had just returned from the region. After talking with both of these individuals, it renewed our interest in the region again. They both had a type of energy when speaking about Israel and all it has to offer, even with the “security threats” that exist there. It was great to hear the different perspective on countries who receive mostly negative news coverage. As the trip progressed we followed the Israeli news like hawks. It seemed as the trip went on that everybody in the region had settled a bit and it seemed as though things were going to work out. Unfortunately the day we were supposed to purchase our flights to Tel Aviv, a fighter jet was shot down and the tensions in the region sparked once again. We unfortunately had to make the decision to delay our Israel/Jordan trip for another year. Even though we were both very disappointed (our parents were probably ecstatic), we promised each other that we will get there, even if it takes years. So with the weather turning frigid in Germany, we decided to jump ship to the lovely land of the God’s…Greece!
Santorini lived up to the hype, it was stunning! We were so blown away when we arrived to this little gem in the Cyclades of Greece. However with the beauty came a little bit of a disaster on arrival as our taxi driver dropped us off at the completely wrong hotel. And for those of you who know me, I (Sean) am usually a pretty organized guy. I figured “how hard could it be to find this hotel, it’s a small island and we are staying in a little beach town, no problem”. That attitude along with having no map and a non-functioning phone mixed in with a slight language barrier led us on quite the adventure. 45mins later and a shirt that looked like I had just jumped in the pool, we arrived at our hotel. We debated for days on whether or not to stay on the beach side or the cliff side of Santorini, but after spending one day at this hotel we knew we made the right choice. I rarely advertise hotels/hostels that we stay at, but I must make a mention of the Santa Elena B&B in Kamari. The staff at this hotel were absolutely fantastic. It was like we were staying with a Greek family at their own home. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome and the homemade breakfast was the icing on the cake.
This amazing little island is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic eruption destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological archipelago. The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which occurred some 3600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left volcanic ash deposits hundreds of metres deep and which according to our volcano guide may have led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, through a tsunami that was created post eruption.
One side has lovely black rock, red rock or white rock beaches depending on which section of the geologic volcanic layers have been exposed, while the other more famous side boasts stunning cliff edges with beautiful white buildings topped with blue roofs and views of the ocean as far as the eye can see. Lying on the beach was perfect, though swimming was a bit difficult. The waves were pretty big and the slimy large rocks in the water, which were old, now smoothed lava from previous eruptions, were quite hard to stand up on. There was a lot of falling and splashing!
Our first night took us to the other side of the island to the hustle and bustle of Fira, one of the more well-known towns in Santorini. Perched on top of and even built into the towering cliffs are shimmering white hotels, restaurants, boutique shops and the occasional house, surrounded by zig-zagging cobblestone pathways. With beautiful views and hundreds of tourists, it was quite easy to wander and perhaps get lost for a moment or two. We found a restaurant with a rooftop patio we decided would be the best place to watch the sunset, and that’s where we parked ourselves for the rest of the night. Our first Greek sunset had us hooked. I (sean) have been to Greece twice before (never to Santorini), but I had forgotten how delicious the food is in Greece. Whether it was the REAL Greek Salad, the Saganaki, the seafood or simply the fresh ingredients that we in North America sometimes lack, Greek food is some of the best in the world.
We did two breathtaking hikes; one that took us to the windiest place in Greece (and to one of the oldest settlements from the Minoan era, Ancient Thira) and the other took us along the cliff side from the town of Fira to the town of Oia, which is home to the most photographed spot in Santorini due to its stunning sunsets. We climbed the mountain/cliff/volcano edge to the ruins of Ancient Thira, which is thought to be one of the oldest settlements from the Minoan Era. Although it mostly looks like crumbled stone and the occasional formation of a house, it was neat to see the remains of how advanced this civilization actually was. They had sewage systems, pipes that carried cold AND hot water, roadways, a theatre and some buildings that stood 3 stories tall.
The highlight of this hike though, other than the amazing views and ruins, was the wind. We found out later that it is the windiest place in Greece and we would both definitely agree with that fact. It was so gusty and strong that it almost knocked us off the side of the cliff, rivalling the hurricane winds we felt in New York for Hurricane Sandy only a few years ago. Crazy!
Fira to Oia
Our next hike was another incredible adventure. A cobblestone, dirt and pumas pathway lead us from Fira to a town called Oia, on the north-west side of the island. The views from that cliff side were some of the most stunning we have ever seen. To look out onto an everlasting sea with small islands popping up every now and then and seeing the sun setting slowly in the distance with colours you wouldn't believe existed in nature. The hike takes approximately 4 hours, but as you can see, very few people actually do the hike and it is a wonderful way to see the rest of the island. It was a very calming experience once you leave the town of Fira. The sunset at the end of the hike, overlooking the large church and town of Oia was breathtaking. It’s the most photographed sight in Greece and the pictures will never do it justice. Even though we were hot, sweaty and tired, it was completely worth it.
We also did a sail boat tour that took us to the active volcano, the hot springs and the island of Therasia, which was once attached to the rest of the island. Being able to walk on an active volcano (last eruption in 1950) and see the smoke expelled from the ground was riveting. This volcano caused so much damage in the past, destroying cities and civilizations and here we were meandering along its’ paths, carelessly taking pictures and enjoying the sunshine.
We spent a full week in Santorini but it went by way to fast. We could have easily spent another week there as we still missed some of the things that we wanted to accomplish. I guess that is just another excuse to come back. We are now off to the island of Ios.