We left Athens early in the morning (5:30 a.m.) and caught the metro to nearby Piraeus, which is the port for Athens. We found our ferry, the Blue Star Paros, and found ourselves a picnic type table out on the deck. Kevin guessed that we were going to pass on the right side of the islands, which turned out to be the case for most of the trip, so we had a great view. The ferry left the port at around 7:30 in the morning and we headed out into the Aegean for a seven hour ride. The winds were incredible, making Portage and Main seem calm. We only saw some scattered islands until about 12:30, when we stopped at the port of Paros. After taking on new passengers, we continued to Naxos, about an hour away. Another quick stop at the port and it was on to Santorini. We arrived just after 3:00 and it was about 32 degrees. The port of Athinios is the port used for the larger ferries, and is situated at the bottom of a steep cliff. After a harrowing bus ride up the cliff, we entered Fira town, the capital of Santorini (also known as Thira)
. Santorini's population is approximately 8,000, but it looks like many more people live there, as the eastern half of the island is almost entirely built for the tourist season. The island apparently sees 1.1 million visitors per year, so you can imagine that their bread and butter is tourism. We took a bus from Fira to Perissa Beach, the best beach on the island. We stopped for a quick dinner at a seaside cafe and enjoyed the breeze. Upon asking for directions to our hotel, Villa Philothera, it seemed that no one had even heard of it. Fortunately, at the tourist office, the woman phoned the contact number. Fotis, the owner, came to pick us up, upset with the woman that she didn't know the name of his establishment. It turned out that the location was really great, just a few blocks to the sea, but he had only been open for one season previously. Fotis and his wife were both extremely pleasant and our room was beautiful, so we took some pictures. We walked along the shore that evening and headed to bed early in anticipation of a busy day ahead.
After waking at 8:00 a.m. we went in search of a vehicle to rent. At first we thought we would rent a scooter, as many people seemed to be touring the island in this way. However, we learned from the rental agency that you need a specific type of license, which we did not have (though that may have only been for scooters with larger engines). We found a great rental agency where cars were 20 euros per day. We put 5 euros of gas in the tank and headed out to see the island. Our first stop was Ancient Akrotiri, where up to 30,000 people may have lived around 3500 years ago. The city had been covered by ash and lava when the island's volcano erupted. Most of the site was protected under temporary roofing as excavations continue to take place
. After Akrotiri, we drove up to the highest peak on the island, Mount Elias, where there is an old monastery. When we reached the parking area and turned off the car, the engine began to smoke and hiss, spewing stenchy steam. Rebecca thought we should call the rental agency, for safety sake, as it was a long and narrow winding road to the bottom. Kevin reminded her that there was an e-brake in the car, so they would not necessarily careen off the cliff. After all this, the monastery had been appropriated by the Greek Military and so there was nothing to go in and see. The view was breathtaking though and after taking some pictures the car had cooled off enough to attempt the descent. We drove to Pyrgos for lunch and then headed on to Oia (EE-ah) to do some shopping. The town is beautifully situated and the streets were narrow enough not to allow cars, so we enjoyed a leisurely stroll. The town is made up of buildings that are white and blue, like the ones you see on postcards. All in all a fantastic sight, although the temperatures hovered around 33 degrees. Then it was back to Perissa Beach for a relaxing evening, before heading off to Crete the next day.