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Postcards: Athens and the Acropolis (GR)

I felt a little guilty for treating Athens as a stop-and-go point. This immense and sprawling city was the gateaway to our island escapades, and oh escaping Athens we did. We hopped on a ferry out to Naxos a mere few hours after arrival at the airport, and we’ve set aside only our last day to sightsee the city because, well, we had an early flight the next morning. What I had not predicted was the delay in our overnight ferry back to Athens.

Athens

Athens

As our allocated 24 hours dwindled to about 20 hours, and our very weary bodies refusing to cooperate fully after sitting and waiting cluelessly at the port in Santorini in the middle of the night, we managed to tough it out for 7 hours under the stifling Athenian afternoon sun. We then crashed out. As I didn’t pay enough attention to the information board that I was supposed to be reading, I don’t have much to tell, just pictures to share.

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Touring southern Santorini

On the final full day of our stay in Santorini, we decided to culture up a little before we board our Athens-bound ferry which was scheduled at 1.25am. We hopped onto a southern Santorini tour that consisted of a fairly small group – we numbered not more than fifteen, despite travelling in a large coach that could easily fit another twenty or so other people. We were accompanied by good-humoured Francisco, who for some reason, spoke with a bedroom-raspy voice on using a microphone but not otherwise. ;)

Southern Santorini tour

Southern Santorini tour

First up, the highest point on Santorini – Mount Profitis Ilias – which peaks at 567 metres. The road onto the monastery is narrow, windy and rather treacherous given the number of ATV that were trying to do the climb on the shoulder of the road. I wasn’t sure (and still am not) how the driver was not nervous manoeuvering the coach on tight corners, and at one point, we even squeezed by a car with shattered windscreen following an accident with a tourist-handled ATV. The young rider and his friends were all huddled by the road, visibly shaken. It made me glad that we were not driving ourselves!

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Just keep swimmin’, just keep swimmin’…

Given his love of the sea and observation of underwater life, it would be absolutely frustrating for Frédéric had we not check out a few beaches while in Santorini. As for me, I must admit I am totally envious of his level of confidence in just jumping in and swim away from the shore/boat. (The question then is: how is it that I am still so bad at hauling my a** to classes and learn how to swim properly???) In the mean time, I stay in the role of guardian of the bags and I kill time by taking photos and/or reading.

Katharos Beach

Talk about going off the beaten path… On our first morning in Oia, we thought we would head down to Ammoudi Bay but somehow got lost along the way. After about 40 minutes walk, we found ourselves at Katharos Beach, down on a steep dirt path and nestled between high white cliffs. It is technically the closest beach to Oia, since Ammoudi Bay is more of a port right next to the water. There were not many people around on this black pebbled beach (3-4 other couples) so it felt like we were on our own private beach.

Katharos

Katharos

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Postcards: The idyllic village of Oia (GR)

There is no doubt that Oia is high on the touristic scale. Come evening, for the sake of the beautiful sunset, everyone seems to flock to this little northern village of Santorini. The marble-paved streets may see constant footfall throughout the day but in the morning, calm can easily be found, along with foggy vista thanks to the high level of humidity.

I’ll let the 30 photos below show you what the village of Oia is like, in the wispy morning, under the hot afternoon sun, and transitioning between the last lights of the day and the night. [Hover over photo for captions as usual]

The village of Oia

The village of Oia

The village of Oia

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Postcards: Blue in Oia (GR)

The mere mention of Greece easily conjures up the image of white-washed buildings with blue windows and doors, or blue-domed roofs. Taking advantage of the colour selection mode on my trusty point-and-shoot, here’s my attempt to show you just how well-loved blue (and white) is, especially in the Cyclades.

Blue in Santorini

Blue in Santorini

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Island time(table), Santorini edition

Santorini is not a very big island, and by all accounts, have a good network of public buses that run regularly and budget-friendly in term of ticket prices. To us, this negates the need to rent a car and drive on unfamiliar, narrow and windy roads. The network radiates from Fira, however, thus we would need to travel from Oia to Fira each time for onward bus connection.

Bus timetable

I’ve been advised by friends to make sure we have a copy of the latest bus timetable. We were also, understandably, to know that any time indicated would be approximative. Afterall, there’s no predicting the traffic, right? Like a good trooper, I duly downloaded and printed a copy of the timetable from the bus company’s website.

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Caldera, volcano and hot spring

As we didn’t have a few hundred of spare euro to throw around (i.e. rent a private boat) so we can tour the caldera and climb the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, F and I had booked ourself a Caldera Morning guided tour that technically would last for most of the days. We waited at an assigned location in Fira to be picked up by a bus that would transfer us to the port to catch the boat, together with a good number of other fellow visitors.

10.30am… 11.00am… 11.30am… 11.45am…

It’s an understatement to say that we were getting antsy. So far, we’ve seen busload after busload of cruise ship passengers arriving for their tour of Fira. Our bus? Nope, not a shadow. It was while in conversation with a French couple then that we got to know that tours on Wednesday mornings always run late, by a good hour, thanks to the arriving cruise ships. Of course, the travel agency would not tell you that, unless you go by the same morning and ponder over tour booking. This is when you get the utmost assurance that it’s not too late to catch that day’s tour due to this little delay. Riiiiight.

Caldera morning tour

Caldera morning tour

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An afternoon walk from Firá to Oia

Sometimes, I question my sanity. For someone who grew up near the equator with the benefits of fans and air-conditioning everywhere, a three-hour walk in the middle of the day is simply unthinkable. However, plant me long enough in Europe (especially after a very long and cold winter, followed by a very wet and chilly spring) and what do you know, I cheerfully agreed to walk from Firá to Oia under the scorching Santorinian afternoon sun.

The walk actually took longer than three hours. Whoever who wrote this little snippet of information on Wikitravel must have either just copied it from somewhere and not did the walk, or used to doing a lot of walking on a hot day, or forgotten to add a little addendum that this is the time required if starting from the cable car station in Firá. If you’re starting near the bus station and/or plan to do a lot of photo stops, it’s best to add another hour or so. (Note: I am no couch potato and normally walk a good bit in Paris.)

Day-walk from Fira to Oia

Day-walk from Fira to Oia

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Postcards: The Venetian Museum of Náxos (GR)

The story of the Venetian Museum in Náxos is a fascinating one. Housed in a stone tower that is legacy of the Della Rocca-Barrozi family, the museum was founded and is curated by Nikos Karavias, descendant of the afore-mentioned Franco-Venetian noble houses on his maternal side, and of Cretan rebel against foreign occupiers on his paternal side. If you would like to know a little more of this Franco-Venetian-Greek family, you’d do well to read this article from the Levantian Heritage website.

We went on a guided tour of the tower house, consists of a main living area, a couple of bedrooms (with hidden access to other levels in the tower), a kitchen/dining area, a library/study, a private chapel, as well as a cellar/prison, and a courtyard. We were regaled with tales about different members of the family, pointed out significance of certain objects on display, and of course, treated to the harbour views from the tower. I’ll let the photos take you through parts of our guided visit.

Venetian Museum of Naxos

Venetian Museum of Naxos

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Chóra, Hora or Náxos Town?

The island of Naxos is the largest among the Cycladic islands and lies within the heart of the archipelago. With over 60 villages scattered around the island, there are much for visitors to see and to do. However, when you are short in time – in our case, we had mere 2 days – then it’s better to play it smart and stay put in Chóra. Or Hora. Or Náxos town. (Hint: they refer to the same place.)

The ferry from Athens-Piraeus to Naxos takes about 6 hours through the vast Aegean Sea and the first sight that greeted us near the port was the Gate of Apollo, also known as Portara. This large marble gate dated back to approximately 500 BC is the remaining structure of a temple dedicated to Apollo, standing tall but alone on the islet of Palatia. The temple was never completed, but the remnant of what was the intended dimension can be seen. Naxos town from here is also a very pretty sight.

Naxos

Portara

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Postcards: Sunsets in Oia (GR)

Santorini is one of the most beautiful islands that I’ve been. After wistfully going through photo albums of several friends who visited this very Cyclades island last year, I decided to push it up high on my priority list as well as into my 101 goals list, which is met by F’s approval. It is a very popular holiday destination, and there are good reasons for it – picturesque villages, friendly locals, ease of communications, delicious food (and wine), fascinating (geological) history, sunny weather, intense sunset – take your pick.

The village of Oia (pronounced “ee-yah”, not “oy-yah”; also written as Ia) is the one spot everyone seem to converge come every evening. There are other view points on the island for beautiful sunset, but between various recommendations (and a good dose of clever tourism marketing I guess), Oia becomes *the* prime sunset-watching spot. We tried to photograph the sunset – something not particularly easy as we attempted to master our new camera – from various points of Oia and not just where everyone goes. It does get uncomfortably crowded with everyone clamouring for the perfect view of the sunset!

Sunset in Oia

Sunset in Oia

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