For those of you who know my obsession with this island, you understand my excitement as we sailed up to the volcanic island of Santorini. Not chancing it on our own, Russel and I signed up for a morning tour of the two main towns - Fira and Oia (pronounced ee-yah). Right before our trip, our tour bus took us to a local winery - which we expected to be a tourist trap, but was actually a nice way to start the day. We got to sample the three main types of Santorini wine (even though it was only around 9am). The red and white wines are what we were used to, just a little stronger, and then their third type, native to Santorini, was a very sweet, very strong, dessert wine. We didn’t really like it, but it might have worked well as an after-dinner wine…just not really a before-breakfast wine. Then our tour took us up the cliff-side to Fira. Fira is probably the most beautiful place we’ve ever seen, unlike anywhere we’ve ever been before, and we are definitely planning on returning some day. The whitewashed houses bundled together on a cliff looking down at the sparkling Mediterranean sea was an unforgettable sight. Don’t worry, we took lots of pictures (literally, hundreds) We explored the small town, navigating the cliff-side walkways and admired the architecture. At the highest point we could get to, we bought some paintings of the island from a small shop.
Next, we traveled to Oia, another popular town, on a cliff above the port. Oia has a much less steep cliff to maneuver up than Fira, so it’s accessible from the water, but not by motor vehicle. We were lucky because we traveled to Oia the back way from Fira, but people coming off the boat had three options to get up to the town - cable car, walking, or riding a donkey….those are also the three ways to get back down (more on that later). Oia was just as pretty as Fira, but slightly bigger and a little more crowded. Here, there were many more beach-type shops and stores, and lots and lots of jewelry shops. We stopped for lunch and had our first genuine Greek meal. I had moussaka for the first time - eggplant with meat, potatoes and cheese and pasta in a lasagna-type formation. It was really really good! Russel was a little less adventurous and ordered spaghetti, but he enjoyed his meal nevertheless. We also got an order of tzatziki sauce and bread - Greek yogurt, cucumbers, garlic and dill, all the makings for an amazing dip. After lunch, we explored Oia for the rest of the day, bought a bottle of Santorini wine, and decided to head down the cliff to the port. We had the same three choices as I mentioned above - cable car, walk or donkey. The line for the cable car was outrageous, and we wanted to enjoy the scenery, so we decided to walk. The locals told us it would take about a half hour to walk down it - so approximately a mile and a half on the path. We started down the path, and ran into the donkey drop-off/pick-up area. I managed to convince Russel that riding the donkeys down would be the best, and most memorable way to end our day in Santorini. I mean, how many times can you say you rode a donkey down a cliff-side? Plus, the donkeys share the road with the walkers, so the whole way down we’d be walking through donkey crap anyway, so avoiding the smell wasn‘t an option regardless. The donkeys were well trained to go down the cliff unguided - as soon as their handlers set them off they headed down the path independently. Luckily, Russel and my donkeys were buddies and stayed together the whole way down - which definitely made it a lot less terrifying for both of us. Although the donkeys were stable on the cobblestone, they often walked in a zigzag pattern down the path - so one minute they’d be checking you up against the wall of the cliff, and the next thing you know you’re right on the edge. A few times the handlers would be on the path and would whistle to make them speed up - since occasionally they’d stop and smell some flowers or take a break. After the fact, I’d ride the donkeys down again (although I’m not sure if Russel would agree with me). I absolutely loved the experience and will remember it forever. As we sailed away from Santorini, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful sunset over the islands. Next stop: Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey.