A Last Minute Cycladic Hop – Arrival on Santorini

I returned from Greece just over two weeks ago but a whole host of things compelled me to get on a flight back. A combination of stress, exhaustion and the relentless gloom of the British weather tipped me over the edge and I was also having serious withdrawal symptoms. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night full of anguish and the realisation that my dreams of retiring to Greece will never happen. Goddamn you Brexit! Can you imagine living your life this way? Another plaster to cover a gaping wound.

I’d spotted a little window in my busy work schedule. Although I’d already decided that I was going, I sheepishly dropped a hint to Peter that I was considering another trip. Four days later I was on a flight to Santorini. God bless Peter. I’m very lucky to have a husband who lets me indulge my passion.

Manchester Airport was much busier than I’d anticipated. It seems that it’s still half term for certain schools and the airport is heaving. The journey redeemed itself at the other end of the flight with a swift passage through passport control and luggage retrieval. I was out of Santorini Airport in 15 minutes. Because it was a late flight I’d arranged a taxi transfer which was a Godsend. At 11.30 at night and with an early start the following day I needed to get some sleep.

I’d booked all the accommodations for this trip in advance and tried to keep it as budget-friendly as possible. The location on Santorini was key – somewhere between the airport and the port but definitely not Fira. I stumbled across a place in Pyrgos Kallistis called Cueva Con Vista Studios just 5.5km from the port which sounded perfect. I gathered from its name that it was a cave house and it had a view – what more could I ask for?

Just after arriving at the airport, I picked up a message from my host telling me how to access the property. Climb the stairs, go through the turquoise gate and enter the code on the door to access the key. Great. Then he sent me a photograph of the stairs in question and it nearly sent me into convulsions! I messaged him back to say that I was a bit worried about the stairs after all I’m an old lady with a bad back. (all true!) He messaged me back to say that of course he would help me with my bag – no problem at all. Phew!

Outside the arrivals hall I immediately spotted someone holding a sign with my name. I was escorted to a taxi and we were soon on our way. I had a very entertaining chat with the taxi driver. He told me that he hadn’t been to this particular accommodation before so we would discover it together. In my mind, I had envisaged Pyrgos being somewhere quite flat but Google Maps can be deceptive! We began to make a steep ascent up into the back and beyond, past vineyards and through sleepy lanes until we came to the location. The steps looked far more ominous than in the photograph! The taxi driver phoned my host to let him know I was here and and two minutes later we spotted him leaping down the steps like a gazelle.

Charis is a slight young man but had no problem hoiking my bag up the steps. He told me that the steps have given him a strong heart. Halfway up and mine is about to go into cardiac arrest! It isn’t just the steep ascent but also the heat which at nearly midnight still feels quite oppressive. I’d read earlier that another heatwave has just begun. That doesn’t bode well for this Northern European granny who struggles with anything over 24 degrees!

As we climb I notice a strong essence of donkey in the air. I’m in no doubt that we are climbing a donkey track or very close to one. There are 2 long flights of stairs and once past the turquoise gate another shorter (though not short) flight. Even without a bag I was struggling, but we made it. Charis showed me my room in the cave house and I noticed immediately how cool it was inside. Many moons ago I’d stayed in a cave house in Oia and I’d forgotten how cool they were – thick walls and a vaulted ceiling to protect during an earthquake. No air conditioning is needed.

Charis confirmed that his partner Vicky will take me to the port at 7am the following morning. This is considerably cheaper than a taxi. I attempt to take a cool shower. It’s one of those new fancy ones that sends out jets of water in all directions. It took me a while to fathom out which of the various knobs to turn but eventually, I’m able to stand under a torrent of cool water. I think that it was on the Manchester rain setting! It felt familiar anyway.

Now to take in the view from the terrace before bedtime. The lights of Santorini are flickering in the dark below whilst bats swoop and dive between the houses. It is absolutely silent. I can’t wait to see it in all its glory in the morning.

Before I go to bed I Google Pyrgos Kallistis and discover that it’s the highest village on Santorini. Just short of a nose bleed I’d say!

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At 6am my alarm springs into life. To be honest I had been awake for some time as often happens when you need to be up early. I have enough time to make a cup of tea and take in that sunrise view before heading off. Little Anafi just visible through the sea haze on the horizon. This is one of those magical moments that I wish I could hold onto forever.

I begin to heave my luggage down the steps one at a time. The bad back is one thing but my vertigo is another but Siga Siga, I get it down the first flight of steps. Soon after that I see Vicky running after me to take over. I offer to carry it with her but she won’t hear of it. I’m secretly pleased! Halfway down I hear the clatter of hooves on stone and descending a parallel path is an elderly man leading a pair of donkeys. I knew it! He calls a cheery “Kalimera” to Vicky. They have a brief chat before the luggage is bundled into the boot of the car.

On the journey down to Athinios Port Vicky tells me that she is from Kardytsa in Central Greece but Charis and her have now built a life on Santorini. It’s clear by the way she talks about Santorini that she loves the island and the people. The old man with the donkey is her newly adopted Santorini grandfather.

Having recently stayed in the village of Pyrgi on Chios I know that the name means tower and I ask Vicky if Pyrgos has the same meaning. She tells me that it does and in fact, there is a Venetian Castle just above Cueva Con Vista that offers the most magnificent panoramic views on the island. This has piqued my curiosity.

I don’t mention this to Vicky but I am guilty of poo-pooing Santorini. I’ve complained about the grossly over-inflated prices and the hordes of people launched onto the island via the monstrous cruise liners. I’ve stayed on Santorini 5 or 6 times over the years with varying experiences from amazing to a bit non-plussed. When I decided to take three of my teenage grandchildren to Greece two years ago I wanted to give them an experience they would never forget. I know that most people when they think of Greece, conjur up images of white cubist buildings and blue-domed churches. In other words the Cyclades. I knew that Santorini had to be part of the itinerary- and they loved it. There is no denying that Santorini has a unique beauty unlike anywhere else. Take away the crowds and the pollution and Santorini in its raw state is a gem. Although this is but a fleeting visit, I am curious about the traditional villages and who knows – maybe I’ll come back in the depths of winter when it’s quiet and explore it further.

We descend the zigzag road towards Athinios Port and Vicky and I say our goodbyes. I head to one of the cafes for a cup of tea and watch the scene in front of me. Things slowly begin to get frenetic. There is now a stream of tour buses coming down the zigzag road in tandem. Coach loads of people empty out onto the quayside. Bug shaped tenders arrive from the cruise liners depositing people onto the quayside and those waiting, are taken back to their ship. The logistics of transporting so many people from A to B to C is impressive. The thrum of coach engines is the overriding sound and the exhaust fumes are strong in the air. It’s relentless and it isn’t even 8am.

The ferry Saonisos is running late. I also have no idea what gate she will come into so I track her on Marine Traffic. As soon as I see her sailing into the port I follow her to her ‘parking spot’. As she arrives a large crowd of tourists surge forward but are given the ‘wait there’ hand signal by the port police. My instinct had told me that they weren’t catching the Saonisos. I edge towards her and wait until the cars have boarded before approaching with my e-ticket. The port policeman checks that I am sailing on the Saonisos and waves me on.

I receive a lovely welcome as I board the boat and my luggage is taken from me as soon as I reach the top of the ramp. Nice! Of course, I head straight up to the deck to see what’s what. It isn’t long before we set sail. The Saonisos gives a blast on her horn which is reciprocated by the Speedjet 1 and both captains wave to each other. A mutual captain appreciation thing – cameraderie of the seas.

The ship sails past several huge cruise liners on the right and the volcano on the left. It is just a 40 minute boat journey to Thirassia.

I was almost caught unawares. It was hot and I’d sought some respite in a shelter on the deck. As soon as I noticed Saonisos spinning on her axis I grabbed my small bag and went down to the car deck. I’m the only person disembarking here. This is a good sign – very good indeed!

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2 Comments

  1. I’m with you on the retiring to Greece issue – it was my dream too but who knows – rules can change and once I retire I can spend 3 months there at least !

    1. I’m not sure they’ll change in my lifetime Liz – not with politicians that are either pro Brexit of just ambivalent about it – but we can hope! ❤️

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