I wrote this story when I was still living in Greece, while studying there in 2007 as an Erasmus student. It is also one of the first travel stories I have ever written.
Living in Greece allowed me not only to travel in the country, but also visit the neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey. I lived in Thessaloniki, which is the largest Greek city in the north, in one flat with and Italian and Lithuanian. Lithuanian girl was also my companion to Santorini.
I had heard that Greek islands are among the most beautiful in the world and Santorini was especially famous. I am sure than since the moment I wrote this story those years ago, prices have changed, but I am certain the impressions about the island would be as good! Santorini is a very suitable destination for travelers on a budget, especially students, as hotel are very cheap. We were very lucky, as our Greek friends had contacted their friends on the island and we had the chance to drive around the island with a local guide.
Around midnight I took the Thessaloniki-Athens train, to listen for 7 hours the monotonous sounds of the train and try to sleep. The reason is simple – paying 50 euros for express train was too much, but since I am a student at a Greek university, I get additional discounts on the regular train and I only have to pay 11.30 EUR per ticket. The life for students is good here – all public transport is only half the price and twice a day you get free food!
Around six a clock in the morning, when the city should be sleeping, Athens wakes up. First people show up on the subway, a few drunken ones too, but most of them are travelers with big bags, headed to the port – Pireus. Around seven o’clock I already have a ticket for Hellenic Seaways ferry Highspeed 5, and right after morning tea and traditional Greek pie with cheese I am ready to board. The ferry was built in 2005, everything is new and squeaky clean, and staff is nice and even lets us go to the VIP/Business Class lounge to take pictures of the sunrise. The day is calm, so no one is seasick, and I probably even wouldn’t feel too tired if not the seven hours spent in the train. Again, the tickets to the ferry are significantly cheaper for students and we only paid 40 euros for a five hour journey. If we would have selected the slowest ferry, Blue Star Ferries, we would have to pay 30 euros, but it would also take us three hours longer, which was not something to look forward to after night ride in the train.
We arrive to the port of Santorini, Thira at midday, and the fun can begin! A week before, our Finnish friends visited Santorini too, and told us not to book anything online but agree on the price at the port, especially due to the low-season. We came on the 25th of October, which is two-three weeks after the end of the season. Although the sign on the room door said that the price would be 50 euros per night, we end up paying only 30 for a twin room. At first the owner wanted 45 euros, but once he realized we were well informed about the prices, agreed on 30. We were the only visitors in a twelve room hotel. The owner also drove us to the center and back to the port when we returned. We did not have high expectations about the room, it was ok and our goal was not to spend too much time there.
Right after settling in we went for a walk, and it was even more beautiful than we had imagined and seen in the pictures! Santorini really is one of the places where reality is even better than postcards. Blue-white houses, calm skies and our memory cards on the cameras filled up quickly. We saw a few churches, talked to a couple of tourists and finally met our friend’s local acquaintance, who took care of us. We went to eat amazingly tasty waffles in a terrace café, met the rest of his friends and were told what we would be doing next. Our Greek friend Alexander (Alex) lives in Santorini for five years, working in the tourism industry. We had the chance to listen to a guide who works with such people as Leonardo Di Caprio (who pay 1500 euros and more per hotel night).
Upon his recommendation we went to the Thira Prehistoric Museum, which has exhibits on the history of the island before the volcano erupted. 17th BC Santorini had not only developed crafts, but also good trade connections with other lands. After the volcano erupted, the city was covered in ashes and preserved, and the remnants were found not that long ago. These findings are similar to Pompeii in Italy, where due to ashes everything was preserved in good condition. It seemed strange that you are not allowed to take pictures of each other in the museum, but you can take pictures of the exhibits. The guards in the museum were extremely vigilant and would scold everyone who would come closer than one meter to any exhibit.
After visiting the museum we walked on the narrow streets and took a cable car ride to the old port. With sunset came back to the city, this time riding donkeys. The rapid ascend to the top was a lot of fun and definitely worth to money! Cable car ride was 4 euros and donkey ride only 5.
Coming back we really appreciated the view – thousands of lights turning on in the different sides of the island, owners of cafes and restaurants calling everyone in to appreciate the seafood, souvenir shop owners asking where are we from. Everyone speaks English here, most probably because during the season every day ten large cruise ships stop here, full of American tourists. My parents, who visited this place on a one day excursion from Crete, said that during the season there are so many people that you can barely walk the narrow streets, so visiting off-season is recommended. Hotels will be cheaper; there will be less people, as only a couple ships per week stop.
The island went completely silent at nine o’clock in the evening, as it’s off season, and we went to bed, to be able to see more the next day.
As eight in the morning we were ready to explore again, taking pictures and buying stamps to send the postcards we bought the previous night. We were also waiting for a call from our personal guide Alex, to find out what is the plan. Worth mentioning is the fact that there is a large number of really beautiful postcards in Santorini, all high quality and cheap – 30 eurocents per piece.
We had agreed with Alex to go to see Oia at sunset, but it was not clear what we would be doing during the day. He told us not to go see the volcano and the hot springs, as those are boring and expensive. So we sat in his tiny car (as the rest of the islanders, he drives a Fiat), and went to see the old capital of the Santorini. We saw ruins from the earthquake of 1956, old forts and castles, churches and houses. There were many more cats than stray dogs in Santorini, which was the opposite in Thessaloniki, which has an enormous stray dog population.
Later, grabbing our swimsuits and towels, we are headed to the black beach. There are three types of beaches in Santorini, black, white and red. White is the usual kinds we know, the ordinary sand. Black looks like dust or dirt, because of the volcanic rocks. And the red one is due to iron and volcanic rocks mixing.
We looked at people sunbathing and thought – is it really that warm? Although it was around +25°C, it seemed too windy for swimming. It was not! The water was 20, maybe even 22°C, and it was even too hot when sunbathing, probably because the black sand attracts more heat. There were some very interesting cliff formations near the beach, full of hollow holes. The cliffs are made of sand and small stones, so are susceptible to nature forces. We swam, we sunbathed, and we also saw the red beach which unfortunately was covered in seaweed on that day and were ready to explore further!
While we got back to Thira, there was no more time left to change, or leave the wet towels, so we decided to go to Oia right away not to miss the sunset. The sun sets at 6:30 pm, and since we wanted to have a look at the town, we wanted to be on time. Oia is famous for its beauty, the narrow streets and houses even more beautiful than in Thira. At high season it’s impossible to get a spot at the viewing tower in Oia to get the best look at the sunset. We got lucky, there were only a couple people there now and we saw the amazing view – windmills, tiny houses, ships and sunset. On the way back we were mesmerized by the beauty of the serpentine roads, and the view, when a cruise ship, airplane and moon were all in one line.
We agreed to meet around nine o’clock and finally had some time to rest. At 8:30 a friend of Alex, Perry came to pick us up. His real Greek name was different, but he said it’s impossible to be pronounced for others so he sticks to Perry with foreigners.
He took us to a really elegant restaurant almost on the top of the mountain, where you could see the whole island. We ate chicken a la crème, had local wine and ate sweets. Speaking of Santorini wine, we noticed the unusual way the vineyards grow, they have been braided into basket-like constructions, and the grapes grow on the inside, where it’s warmer and less windy, so they ripe better. After the dinner we went to the center, but since it was low season, only one bar was open which had maybe a dozen people in it. We felt quite tired from the trip so went to bed already around midnight.
On the last day we went to pick up the last souvenirs (a key chain can cost even three times cheaper in Thira than Oia), looked at the city for the last time and it was already 10:30 and time to leave to the port.
Although two nights is not a lot, Santorini is a wonderful place to visit! It is mentioned in many travel guides as a most beautiful destination, and everything seems brighter here; more blue, white and fresh than anywhere else. Tiny cafes serve excellent food, locals are nice and other tourists are nowhere to be seen after the end of the season.
Be sure to check out all the pictures at the top of this post in the gallery!