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krisek Fira - A travel report by Krys
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Fira,  Greece - flag Greece -  Kykládes
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krisek's travel reports

Is it where the legendary Atlantis had been?

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Santorini (Thira) claims that it had been the Atlantis before the volcano erupted and sent a few nearby civilisations, including the Minoan, to the other side of existence. It is a very nice place with dramatic location and great sunsets.

General view of the island
General view of the island
Arguably the most picturesque of all islands on the Mediterranean, but most definitely the one with the most dramatic history.

The island’s current shape is a direct result of a gigantic volcanic eruption, actually one of the largest (if not the largest) in the planet’s billions of years of history. It happened around 1650 BC, and it most probably killed a few civilisations in the region, like the Minoans and the Akrotiri.

Before the explosion, the island was round, and its name was Strongili. When the volcano blew, the centre of the island collapsed creating a very deep crater, called caldera, which the sea filled very quickly. This eruption released tonnes of ash, pumice, and magma and generated colossal tsunamis (even 250 metres high) destroying everything at the entire coastline of the sea.

Number of theories and hypotheses place the legendary Atlantis exactly where Santorini is. The gargantuan volcanic explosion ending the island’s Minoan civilisation that made the island disappear under the water makes an easy analogy. And despite the fact that it has not been yet proven to be true, the island happily advertises so and the Santorinians produce local wine called Atlantis, which is unfortunately completely undrinkable.

Favourite spots:
The caldera
The caldera
Today, the cities and villages are built on the top of the caldera’s ridge (picture opposite). The drop from the towns to the bottom of the island is very dramatic, steep and it is a few hundred meters all the way down to the sea. Although, the villages and towns have all their own names, they are simply one long city running from one end of the volcano’s ridge to another.

The volcano remains active and it is growing again. It is visible as a dark little island in the centre of the crater. Many boat excursions are organised to see and walk on this part of the volcano where people can touch and walk on the solid lava rock, and admire the views. There are also hot pools, which is rather expected in the middle of a volcano. I have been in hot springs before, but that was in fresh water and not in seawater.

What's really great:
Church in Firostefani
Church in Firostefani
The village of Firostefani was where I wanted to stay on Santorini, and this was where I got the taxi driver to take me from the airport.

It is much quieter than Fira town, and it boasts magnificent views of the island and the volcano. It is located walking distance from the capital and it less touristy with much better accommodation prices.

The village has also several little churches, which are probably the most photographed buildings on the Greek islands. There are also many more other interesting buildings in Firostefani, much less shops and tourist-focused establishments, and of course, there are no unbearably odoriferous donkeys, which smell horribly and stink horrendously and whose extremely sad eyes scream ‘please, please do not sit on my back!’

Couple of my favourite structures in the village were two defunct windmills, now being a part of a restaurant. They are great, because they are the only completely round buildings on the island, I think.

Harbour in Fira
Harbour in Fira
The fantastic and extremely picturesque town of Fira, the capital of the island, full with bars, restaurants as well as boutiques and tourists can become rather boring after a while. For me this while lasted about two hours. The problem was that the town is very small and apart from shopping there is not much to do there. Fortunately, I had my friends with me, and we did what we do best - eat and drink. Anyway, the town had a few interesting buildings around, a few churches and incredibly looking mansions and houses. The narrow alleys running along the ridge of the volcano are great. The whitewashed houses, sometimes with colourful doorways, create a typical and perhaps stereotypical image of Greek islands - idyllic, peaceful, provincial.

Fira is expensive. It is a challenge to find good value accommodation on the island. The hotel in Firostefani, in which I wanted stay, was all over sudden full and I had to look for alternatives. It was early in the morning, so my chances were not too bad. A number of little hotels in the closest vicinity were also full for the first night I wanted to stay, so I kept looking and found a lady, who was letting rooms.

Her room was extremely basic, located in a basement, but it was clean and relatively cheap. I did not really need a swimming pool with a bar overlooking the magnificent caldera. Did I? I can tell you that I successfully substituted this with drinks on a friendly rooftop bar with scary (much better than I ever expected) view on the major part of the crater.

Santorini at night
Santorini at night
I pressed on the absolute necessity to go on a sunset cruise around the submerged volcano. I knew I wanted to do this even before I landed on the island. There were a few companies selling those trips. It was very easy to buy the tickets.

The boats were leaving from the old Fira harbour, from the water edge, a hundred meters down from the town itself. Anyway, the cruise, operated on a small sail boat was fun. The trip involved a sluggish pace from Thira island onto the actual volcano. The volcano is active and dark island created by the solidified lava keeps getting bigger and bigger. Every year.

The stop at the volcano was short - about one hour. This allowed for a short trek on the new lava island and a swim in the hot waters along a small fragment of the coast. I wanted to see the exact spot from where the lava would come out, or the actual crater, but I could not find it. On the ways back, the sunset was superb. Food and drinks were served. It was a party on water!

Caldera view from the restaurant
Caldera view from the restaurant
For the most part of the visit to Fira, I sat down in one of the restaurants with the most spectacular view from the side of the caldera and befriended a waiter, who kept fetching those beers for me and my friends. That was the plan. Thira was on the itinerary for relaxing. The restaurant was called ‘At Nick’s’, or something like it. And the waiter’s name was also Nick, which is among Greece’s most popular names for a boy. The restaurant served decent food too.

The terrace on the top of the restaurant was a perfect spot to enjoy a day. The sun was shining, the view to the entire, almost, island was spectacular and the beer was wonderfully cold. Nick, the waiter, taught us how to say “cheers” in Greek and from then on we kept raising the glasses and cried “cheers!’ like a small bunch of Greeks, who enjoyed their weekend.

Seafood Platters at the At Nick's
Seafood Platters at the At Nick's
For the purpose of decency, we kept making breaks from the lazying on the terrace. During the breaks we would go for a walk in the town and buy small items belonging to the ‘stupid souvenir’ category. I bought myself two white shirts made of this super light and breathable material, perfect for hot weather. Actually, I used those shirts on my subsequent trips to Africa on several occasions. I loved them!

One night we decided to eat At Nick's as well. We went for these full blown seafood platters, which made other people in the restaurant utterly jealous. I like doing things like this, from time to time. In a country where seafood is abundant, I like to treat myself to a wonderful, and perhaps excessive and a little extravagant, meal full of fruit of the oceans and seas. This one on Santorini was truly delicious!

Finding food in Fira is not a problem. Expensive spots are complemented by little windows selling cheap snacks.

Other recommendations:
Cruise ships at the new volcano
Cruise ships at the new volcano
As I'm touching on the subject of food, I must make a statement here. In Fira, I lost my patience with the disgusting rip off at the Greek restaurants. This concerns the majority of the eateries in the entire country. One sits down in a restaurant and orders something. A few moments later, a basket of bread arrives - usually a few pieces of sliced baguette. In more sophisticated restaurants, the waiter would also bring a small plate of olives. At the end of the meal, the bill is enlarged by 5-6 euro for the bread, regardless of the fact whether you ordered it or not, or whether you touched it or not. I understand that there are many various systems around cover charges, etc but this one in Greece is utterly perfidious. At one of the restaurants in Fira, I ordered spaghetti (a big mistake there, huge one!) as I became a little tired Greek food. As soon as I placed my pasta order, the waiter fanfaronadedly “and bread for everybody!” I almost lost it! Who eats pasta with bread? Nevermind.

Published on Sunday December 7th, 2008

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Tue, Dec 09 2008 - 04:49 AM rating by jorgesanchez

this is a obra de arte!

Sun, Dec 07 2008 - 11:22 AM rating by rangutan

Incredibly well illustrated report, another good bit of advertising for travel generally :-)

Sun, Dec 07 2008 - 11:14 AM rating by pesu

Wonderful pics - nice report (though I like donkeys ;-)...)

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