Scooter heaven

Trip Start May 01, 2006
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Trip End Sep 01, 2006


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Saturday, May 13, 2006

We woke early and caught the local bus to the other side of the island to Oia (pronounced ee-uh). Various travel websites had recommended the Youth Hostel in Oia but as often happens, we were talked into a private villa for the same price. Good choice too!

The BOSS immediately settled into soaking up some sun while I had a caffeine fix. Thus fortified, we set forth to explore Oia. Oia is a stunningly beautiful little town set right on the cliffs of Santorini and looks exactly like it does in the glossy travel brochures. There are hundreds of little marble cobbled alleyways with shops, restaurants and hotels tucked into every corner. We longingly looked at the hotel with the pool on the cliff edge but were unwilling to pay four times the price of our little villa. Having starved ourselves of proper food the previous day (ship food consisting of cheese in fillo and chocolate cream pie) we ordered a lovely salad in the Lotza Café overlooking the crystal clear blue waters.

As every tourist does, we hired a scooter to explore the rest of the island. As luck would have it, it was the exact same scooter I have back in Australia; however this one was in desperate need of a proper tune up. The roads on Santorini are particularly dreadful with many patches of gravel, narrow windy roads and terrible local drivers (who, I am sure, are sick to death of all these damn tourists going 20km/hr on clapped out 50cc scooters). The helmets they offered us were no better than bicycle helmets and we seemed to be the only ones wearing them anyway. The visitors not lucky enough to have their motorbike license had to hire quad bikes and this made the roads even more treacherous.

We headed over to Fira, the capital, which has the identical cliffside blue/white houses as Oia, only it's four times bigger and lacks the peaceful village like atmosphere. It has thousands of jewelry stores selling expensive silver and gold trinkets to the one-day tourists off the cruise ships. It was crowded and noisy so we didn't linger long.

We decided to explore further south, but with no map we just followed the road and ended up in Kamari. There we found a sign pointing to "Ancient Thira archeological site" and before we knew it, we were on a cobbled marble road heading up the mountain. The road was steep and narrow and very very bumpy, with one hairpin bend after the other and no guardrail. We reached to top about four kilometres and 14 switchbacks later only to find the archeological site was closed. The view at the top was spectacular because both sides of the island were revealed but this also meant that the wind ripped straight up and over the ridge making the bike even more unstable.

If my mother has not yet had a heart attack, she should stop reading now! We needed to produce evidence of the "hairiest ride on earth" so on the way down (hoping and praying that no other traffic was coming up the hill); the BOSS had one hand on the grab-bar and the other on the video camera.
Yes mum - she was quite safe, we were only doing 10km/hr.
No mum - it was not an unnecessarily risky thing to do (no more so than aerobatic flying or bungee jumping).
Yes mum - the tingling sensation in my fingers stopped after a few minutes and it didn't take that long for my legs to recover.

We became quite fond of our villa and decided to stay for a few days so it was necessary to purchase some supplies of bread, jam, yogurt, strawberries, milk, juice etc from the local mini mart. Our neighbours turned out to be the girls who worked in the "tourist office" - I am beginning to see a pattern here.
After a snack of bread and cheese we wandered down to the very western tip of Santorini to watch the world famous sunset. Every single tourist on the island had the exact same idea so vantage points were very crowded. Just below our perch a sunset wedding was taking place and as it has always been my girlfriends dream to have a Santorini wedding, I just thought I would rub salt into her wounds with this photo.



Tip #19 When viewing the sunset in May, take extra jumpers because the minute the sun hits the water, the temperature drops by 10 degrees. Our host at the tavern where we ate dinner showed us a photo taken in February 04 of Oia covered in SNOW!!

FRUSTRATION.

I have traveled to quite a few countries over many years and have never felt quite as frustrated as I have on Santorini.
It started with the lack of maps. If you ask for a road map this is what you get.

We got lost about 6 times finding our way to the other side of the island - and it doesn't help when the only road signs you see are the ones pointing down the road you have already passed.
It's also the lack of information on the postcards, calendars and books. You find a stunning photo and want to visit the place desperately but the only information on the back of the card is "Greek Islands". There are 277 Greek Islands - which one?!!
Even the ones marked "Santorini" can't be successfully identified as an actual location by the locals.

But the worst offenders of them all are the "Tourist Information" offices.

The conversation goes like this (keeping in mind that they have perfect English, so the "language barrier" is not the problem):
"Do you have a ferry timetable?"
"No."
"Do you have a bus timetable?"
"No."
"Do you have any information about flights?"
"No."
"You are a Tourist Information office, right?"
"Yes"
"What information do you have?"
"I can book hotels, tours, cars."
"I'd like a hotel with a pool."
"I don't have a hotel with a pool."
"Do you have one with a view?"
"No, I don't have a hotel with a view."
"What hotels do you have?"
"I have two hotels just down the road."
"There are a hundred hotels in Oia and you have two?"
"Yes"
"But they don't have a view or a pool"
"No"
"Can I book the volcano tour with you?"
"No, I don't book that tour but I can book a nice bus tour."
"You are a Tourist Information office, right?"

The "Travel Agents" are even worse: they are downright infuriating and unless you know the exact right question to ask you will never get a straight answer.
"Is there a ferry going to Crete tomorrow"
"Yes"
"Is it in the morning or the afternoon?"
"Afternoon"
"Is there a ferry in the morning?"
"No"
"Is there a boat in the morning?"
"Yes, of course"
"Does it go to Crete?"
"No it goes to Athens"
"Is there a boat that goes to Crete in the morning?"
"Yes"
"I'd like to book the boat for Crete for tomorrow morning"
"It doesn't go tomorrow morning".
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