My Travel Map

My Travel Map

30 October 2013

Milos, Greece

After work was finished on Santorini, we took a very, very wavy ferry ride to Milos, another island in the Cyclades.  We chose to take a few days in Milos primarily for one reason, its beaches.  Milos is a geological wonderland surrounded by beautifully clear blue sea.  That combination makes for some spectacular beaches.  This is going to be a photo-heavy post... Milos is a beautiful place. 

We got into Adamas, the main town on the island and the biggest port, in the evening.  The ferry ride from Santorini was rough thanks to those strong winds blowing down the Aegean.  About half the ferry ended up sick due to the motion, which made for a long ride, even though neither of us were bothered by the waves.  Despite this, Milos was worth it.  We took the evening lounging on the waterfront in Adamas, which is a hive of activity on any given night and even more so on the weekend.  It was a Friday night, and all of the captains or their crews were out on the docks trying to sell places on their boats for tours the next day.  Across the small street, all the restaurants and bars were bustling.  It was a lively and atmospheric environment... perfect for some good food and drinks.  In the morning, we were up early to rent our dune buggy, which served as our main form of transport around the rugged island.  Our first stop after a quick breakfast was the beach at Firiplaka.

No, I didn't have to edit out any people from this picture... we actually had this stretch of the beach to ourselves.  Behind me were only two other couples spread out over an equally long strand.  It was miraculous.  The beach and the water were pristine... it was beautiful and relaxing... everything a good beach should be.

The water was a refreshingly perfect temperature for the hot sun, and that beautiful shade of turquiose was just so inviting.  Add to that random rocks to jump off of, and I'm a very happy guy.

Looking back at the beach, the backdrop was epic too!  All the colors in the rock tell how mineral rich Milos is, which is why the island is better known for its mining industry than for tourism.  Hey, if that keeps the larger hordes of tourists away, so be it.

Next stop: my new favorite beach in the world: Tsigrado.  It has everything I could want... a relatively remote location with no infrastructure; crystal clear, warm but refreshing water; fun and challenging access, so few people; caves, both underwater and above; and plenty of rocks to jump off of.  It is perfect... my perfect beach.

I mean, just look at that water.  It was probably about 15 feet or so throughout much of the cove... perfect to just lose yourself in.  The beach is sandy too, not rocky like many of the beaches around the island... that nice, light sand gives the water that brilliant color, which is contrasted so wonderfully by the dark, rocky patches.

I mentioned the "fun but challenging" access... well there it is.  There is a steep descent down that narrow gully, which ends at the ladder.  It really isn't a problem at all once you trust the rope... still, we saw plenty of people turn back at the top or part way down.  Whatever... didn't bother me one bit.  That just meant more beach and beautiful cove for the rest of us.  I took this picture from the rock ledge that I was jumping from.  The rock was perfect for scrambling, and since the water was so deep because the cliff continued down into it, the rock was also perfect as a jumping platform.  So much fun!

Another day, another beach.  Sticking to the southern side of the island, where the seas are calm and there is no wind (since they blow from the north), we spent the better part of an afternoon at Paleochori.  This is a much more developed beach, but it is still quite nice.  Its main attraction though is the geothermal activity.  The taverna that is set up right next to the strand actually uses the heat from the ground to cook some of the food!  The metal plate with shovel seen here is actually their oven!  There are also several warm spots in the water, where hot gas escapes from the earth beneath.

As with many of the beaches around Milos, the beach itself isn't sand, it is rocky.  Unlike many rocky beaches though, the smooth stones offer up a technicolor masterpiece of shades and marbling.

Looking east down the beach.  The chairs and umbrellas are offered by a conveniently located bar and club, which offers up cold beers, iced or warm coffee, and snacks.  Plus, they have a great sound system, so if you feel like jamming out while enjoying your time on the beach, head here.

If you want more peace and quiet, take a scramble through the tunnel in the cliff to the west of Paleochori (or a nice swim around the rocky point) to another more secluded and quiet little beach.  As with many of the other beaches around Milos, many of these rocks served as diving platforms for yours truly.  That feature really made so many of Greece's beaches so fun for me.

OK, taking a step back from the beaches for a minute.  We took our buggy down to the small fishing village of Klima for sunset.  This sleepy little gem is tucked away at the bottom of the hill (a big hill...) from one of the islands major towns, Plaka.  Klima is tiny though... it only takes a few minutes to walk along the entire waterfront, which is most of the entire village.  It is a fishing village, through and through, and the residents have a touch of flare.  They decorate their homes with the brightest colors, which makes for some perfect scenery as those colors light up in the setting sun and cast their shimmering and colorful reflections in the water.  This is easily one of my favorite pictures of the trip.  This little kid was just having a great time splashing in the water and running from dock to dock.  His mom and dad came out shortly after and started joking around with each other... they seemed like a very happy family.  Further down the way, some folks were taking an early evening dip in the sea.  It was quite an idillic place.

It was sleepy though.  We saw only about 10 people or so while we were there, and half of those were people like us that had come down from beyond to watch the sunset.

Being true to form, it was clear that this little fishing village didn't have a lot of money.  I didn't get any details about how many people still rely entirely on the sea.  One family had set up a neat little gift shop, to try and milk what they could out of tourists (like us) who had heard of Klima's charm.  The fishing is apparently still doing well around Milos though, as the seafood I ate there was all local (supposedly) and all fresh and tasty.  

I couldn't get enough of these colors.  Each house had something painted brightly, and the neat thing was that so many had used entirely different colors.  I loved how the orange on these doors was peeling away to reveal the bright blue underneath.

The other end of town.

Next day, first stop was another small fishing village; this time Mandhrakia.  This was a neat one since the boathouses on this small, manmade harbor were basically caves built right into the ground, with part of the village sitting right on top of them! 

Mandhrakia's telephone booth.

OK, back to the beach.  Yep... that's a beach down there.  Sarakiniko to be exact.  I mean, with beautiful settings like this, it is no wonder that Milos is probably most famous for its statue of Aphrodite (or the "Venus de Milo", as it is better known by its Italian title), the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

This is probably the most impressive beach I've ever seen, and easily another on my top ten list considering the setting.  That tongue of sea comes in through only a narrow, ~7 foot (~2 meter) wide channel, which is also deep (~12 feet or 4 meters or so) and gets deeper fast as you head towards the open sea.  The landscape is even more interesting than the water though... it is a moonscape of white rock, which has been carved by the elements to make bizarre shapes and waves.  It is like something out of the middle of a desert, but there it is, right next to the deep blue Aegean. 

Then there are the old mining tunnels.  Those aren't caves on the left side of this picture, they're an old mine.  They are open to be explored, but they are very dark and very eerie.  Inside they connect into a main tunnel that runs parallel to the canyon, but there are tunnels that go deeper.  Down those deeper tunnels, the light disappears almost immediately.  It is like a black ink just sucks it all up.  There is even one tunnel that goes down via a staircase.  I have to admit, it was a rush walking around a bit in there, with my imagination conjuring up plenty of scenarios involving angry minotaurs and skulking demons. However, if you do go in, I'd recommend you take a light (I had my headlamp in my backpack, fortunately!), and watch your step.  There are a few sections that are obviously used as informal public toilets.

The water is not clear, at all.  It is possible to jump into the narrow part since it is so deep, but the majority of the main area (seen here) is only a few feet (less than a meter) deep, so don't jump in there!  That is one of the really neat things about this natural pool... it goes from so shallow for so long to so deep in such a short amount of distance.  You get out to about where the left edge of this picture is and then all the sudden you're up to your neck in two steps and then treading water with your third.  Thanks to the winds from the north (Sarakiniko is on the northern side of the island) and/or the tide while we were there, the current was moving into the pool through the narrow channel from the sea.  So, I was quite comfortable swimming out into it quite a distance.  However, the threat of strong currents in such a place was definitely on my mind... I can imagine you can get some pretty strong currents pulling water (and swimmers) the other way at times...  

There is also a sea arch there... 

A close up view of the other-worldly white rocks.

Another sea cave, plus, that is a ship's mast sticking up out of the water in the distance.  Yes, there is a shipwreck right there!  This beach just does so much to fuel the imagination... the landscape is like something from an alien world... there is an old ship wreck, which could have been pirates or an ancient Greek warship from the Trojan War... and there are those abandoned mining tunnels!  

We found the Milos hobbits... they obviously live here.  I'd live there... looks pretty awesome to me, and the view out the back must be just epic.

Just a little way down the road from Sarakiniko is yet another incredible beach: Papafragas.  This one sits in a cove that is perfectly surrounded on basically all sides by steep cliffs.  The water from the sea comes in through a tunnel, the light through which can be seen here. There is a precarious walk/scramble down to the beach, and supposedly on clear, calm days (it was neither when we stopped there), the water turns that perfect shade of turquoise, blue and is very still and clear.  Yet another winner on Milos's list.

The end of another day, which means pick a good place and set up there for another sunset.  This time, we decided on the town of Plaka.  Plaka is actually four communities that are clustered around a main, high point (where I'm standing to take this picture).  Plaka is the main town and the official capital of Milos.

Plaka is very pleasant... more bright colors all over the place, contrasting brilliantly with all the whitewashed walls.

Some of the color was natural too...

And back to sunset... it is a good climb up the hill to the "castle" as the signs refer to it (this is thanks to the old Venetian kastro, or fortress that was located on top).  The climb goes quicker than you'd think though, and it offers plenty of great views.  At the top is a small church (not the one pictured here... that is the big one), which is visible from many other places around the island.  Being so high up, it also offers some incredible views of the island, with its massive natural harbor (seen above), and the Aegean and surrounding islands.

Put simply, Milos has nice sunsets too...

Next day, our last on Milos.  We started in Adamas, where we were staying.  It's not the most photogenic place on the island though, so this is all you get.  We stayed there for the morning though and caught an early breakfast before catching our boat.  Adamas is a bustling town... being the main port on the island, it is the center of activity.  It's nice, and there are some great places to eat, drink, and dance.  If you're looking for a place to eat, I'd recommend a taverna called Barco.  It is away from the waterfront on the main road toward Plaka.  I had a plate of sardines and vegetables that consisted of easily the best and biggest sardines I've ever eaten.  Simply delicious and so delicate... perfectly cooked.  Down on the waterfront, we really liked a tapas place, where I ate some grilled octopus.  The octopus, which you can see hanging up in the sun to dry all over the place, is basted in olive oil and grilled over fire.  It is served chopped up with a drizzling of balsamic vinegar.  That was also delicious, though I do always feel slightly guilty eating octopus... they are very intelligent animals, especially for invertebrates.  Anyway, there are also some lively bars and clubs that go late into the night on the hill/cliff overlooking the waterfront.  

We arranged to take a boat ride around the western side of Milos, which is the half of the island that is owned by the mining companies and is off limits to tourists.  Other than that, I'll just let the colors in this picture speak for themselves.

After swinging by a massive an aptly named rock formation known as Arkoudes, "the bears," our first actual stop was at Kalorgries for a swim.  This little cove is reputed as having the clearest waters around Milos, which is definitely saying something if you've been paying attention to any of this post so far.  The water was crystal clear... the bottom was a good 12 feet or more below the boat, but it looked like you could reach right down in and touch it.  Our boat had a platform on the back that we could jump from... I don't need to say any more about how I spent most of my time there.

Onward to our main destination.  One of the popular stops along the western coast (which we did not make unfortunately) is Sikia.  Look carefully at the center of the picture for the round hole in the hillside.  That is a massive, circular tube that shoots straight through the hill.  Now, what is really neat about it is that the sea comes into it via a small tunnel from the back side, which you can also swim through.  Even more awesome is the beach inside the tube.  I really wish we'd stopped looks incredible.  Well, I guess I'll just have to return to Milos again in the future!  

And finally, our main destination: Kleftiko.  Kleftiko basically means: the place of thieves (think "kleptomania").  Kleftiko is a system of coves on the southwestern tip of Milos, which is pockmarked with caves and tunnels.  It's name derives from the fact that it was used as a pirates den for several hundred years.  Supposedly, it was a "safe" zone for pirates, in which they would not attack or try to kill or rob one another.  The place was ideal for them since several of the sea caves and smaller coves are large enough to hide a ship in, so they could tuck their ships away and not worry about being spotted by any of the European royal navies.  You can still see the docking rings and posts that they carved into the soft sandstone all around the place.  This was yet another place where my imagination just went nuts... it was fantastic being able to explore actual pirate coves and caves!

It didn't hurt either that Kleftiko is just stunningly beautiful.  The rock formations are massive (check out the boat in the picture above for scale), and the water is clear and  ranges from ~15-25 feet deep around most of the coves.

There are several pinnacles that just shoot straight up out of the water.

Many of the caves go the whole way through these large rock formations... we swam through several!

Coming through one of the caves... you can see how deep and clear the water is here.  It was just awesome swimming around in this area.  The boat had masks and fins for everyone, so it was easy to get around, and to see the spectacular scenery below the surface.

Another very neat feature here was this layer of black rocks.  Believe it or not (it is true though...seriously), those rocks are leftover from one of the last major eruptions of the Santorini volcano.   Yep, Santorini, the volcanic island that is ~100 km away from Milos, blasted an entire layer of human sized detritus that entire distance across the sea.  It is unimaginable to comprehend such an explosion... these rocks would have rained down as fire and brimstone after the eruption... temporarily rendering picture-perfect Milos as an apocalyptic hell.   The world is a crazy and incredible place.

Saying farewell to Kleftiko as we sailed away was not easy... it was one of the most incredible places I've ever seen.  

Looking north along Milos's rugged and colorful western coastline.  We also sailed by the old manganese mines at Vani, which looked neat from the boat but looks even more incredible from pictures online ( it) 

We did a sail-by of Klima again on the way back into Adamas.   I can say with certainty that Milos was my favorite place that we visited on this last trip to Greece.  It was beautiful beyond reason and it offered me plenty of spectacular beaches, with crystal clear warm water and rocks to jump from.  Add to that a relaxed atmosphere with nice people and good food.  I will do my best to return.

14 October 2013

Santorini, Greece

When people think of the Greek islands, many often visualize the sheer cliffs, deep blue sea, whitewashed buildings, and blue domed churches of Santorini.  The archipelago is an idillic place and easily one of the most romantic places in the world.  I came to Santorini expecting a beautiful place, great culture, and a relaxed pace.  When we first arrived, I was struck by befuddling awe at the sheer, extreme beauty of the small group of islands.  It was inspiring, both in the nature of the human settlement there and in the nature of the archipelago itself, with its catastrophic history and formation.

Santorini isn't just one island... it is a small archipelago with a very interesting history.  The main island, Thira, is a near perfect crescent moon shape.  The picture above is looking north from Imerovigli.  The white on the top of the cliff on the left hand side is the town of Ia, and the islands of Ios and Sikinos are visible in the distance along the horizon.

Turning a little more than 90 degrees to look more southwest gives you this view.  The land in the distance at the upper right is another island, part of the Santorini archipelago.  This island along with the main island make a nice oval shape with only two gaps, the one visible in the center here, and the other visible in the previous picture.   The distant land in the top left is part of the main island, thanks to its crescent shape.  The dark islands in the middle are the latest addition to the archipelago; they are only a couple hundred years old.  You see, Santorini is really the caldera of a supermassive submerged volcano!  The reason the islands in the middle are so dark is because they are relatively fresh rock, bubbled up out of the sea by the volcano as the caldera dome reforms.  The caldera rim is evident in the near complete ring of land formed by the main island and chain across the scene here.  When I stood on top of those steep cliffs and realized exactly what it was I was standing on, I was hit by humbling and terrifying thoughts about just how massive and powerful our planet can be.  Also visible in the front right foreground here is the distinct, rocky outcrop that gave Imerovigli its name.  This rock was used as a lookout tower in ancient times, which is what Imerovigli translates to in ancient Greek: lookout tower.

Turning again to look south and viewing the rest of the main island.  I love that the human settlements on Santorini have built up along the edges of the steep cliffs overlooking the sea.  Caldera views are the premium, but looking over the other side, which is a much more gentle slope to the sea below, is also beautiful.  The architecture just seem so organic too, with the maze-like network of staircases and walkways like arteries and veins and the buildings themselves just seem to grow one on top of the other like massive clusters of white crystals.

As for hotels and accommodation, I've never seen a place with such spectacular places to stay.  They're only available for a price though, and it is a bit of a hefty one.  I must say though, it is worth it to splurge for a caldera view.  We ended up staying in Imerovigli, a couple kilometers away from the main town, Fira.  The prices were much more reasonable, but the best part was the sunset.  Fira is blocked by the prominence that served as the namesake lookout tower of Imerovigli.  We, however, were on the other side of that, meaning we had a beautiful view of the setting sun (more on that to come).  Most of the hotels are small, privately owned affairs, keeping them nice and intimate.  It really is the most romantic place I've even been, and I'm thrilled that my wife was there with me!

I mean, can you beat that?  It would be difficult to try.  The weather was just about perfect too.  The Greek Islands are pretty dry, so there is very little rain during the summer.   The air and the sea are warm too.  The only thing to be mindful of are the winds.  The Aegean Sea is know for its strong winds, which form on the mainland to the north and sweep southward relatively unhindered amongst the islands.  This made the ferry rides around the islands particularly amusing.  Fortunately, I don't get seasick, but I found out just how many people do (a lot apparently).  Our ride from Piraeus (Athens port) to Santorini wasn't bad, but from Santorini to Milos... that was a different story.  Still, sea sickness aside, once on Santorini, all cares are blown away by those (mostly) gentle winds, leaving one free to bask in the beauty surrounding them.

This is a picture of the Old Path around the island and the view from it in Imerovigli.  From Imerovigli, it was about a 30 min walk to Fira...though I never did it in less than 45 mins thanks to frequent stops for picture taking and enjoying the views!  It is a fun time just navigating the path too, as there are several places where it is not clearly marked which is the way to go, despite a major split in the main way.  Between Fira and Imerovigli, the path is almost entirely lined with developed properties, but beyond those towns in either direction it continues as more of a hiking trail, linking up to other villages around the rim of the caldera.

So, our first evening in Santorini, we were treated to one of the lovelier sunsets we've ever seen.  Santorini is rightfully famous for its sunsets.  Even if the sky is perfectly clear with no clouds to set ablaze, the geography does more than enough to make it a near-priceless daily event.

Everyone seemingly gets out to enjoy the sunsets too.  You'll see people all around you setting up along the walls, at their pools, or on their terraces, most with some wine and snacks, to enjoy natures great, daily show.  Restaurants with caldera views advertise sunset dinners, and reservations should be made to enjoy a good spot at most of those.  Ships even set out from the various ports around the island to give people a view of the setting sun from sea level within the caldera, and they all blare their horns when the sun finally passes below the horizon.  Sunsets are a celebrated event on Santorini, which just adds to the beautiful and relaxing simplicity of the place.

Like I said, we were treated to a nice show our very first night...

So day one came to a close.  It was pretty neat seeing the villages along the caldera lighting up as the remaining natural light faded from the sky.  That night, we walked out to Fira for dinner and some drinks in the hustle and bustle of the island's main town.  Another nice thing about staying in Imerovigli is that we were at a nice, quiet distance from the nightlife of Fira, which gets quite raging pretty much every night of the week.  We could enjoy it, thanks to relatively easy access either on foot or by cab, while still enjoying a peaceful and quiet sleep.  There is also the option to stay further out in Ia, pictured here, which sits at the northernmost horn of the main island.  This is an even quieter town after the last bus heads back to Fira, though it is slammed by tourists during the day and evenings for several very good reasons (more on this below).

Santorini is famous for its caldera, and not so much for its beaches.  However, it does have some nice options, a couple of which are particularly special.  This one is Kokkini Ammos, the Red Beach.  Since Santorini is of volcanic origin, it offers several black sand beaches and this gem, carved out of red lava rock.  This beach also lies very near the ancient Minoan ruins on Thira, known as the "Greek Pompeii."  This city was destroyed in one of the volcano's destructive eruptions, locking away an entire city beneath a thick layer of dust and debris.

Red beach lights up in the afternoon sun.  The red even shows from reflections in the water, which on its own is a beautiful gem-like blue/green.  The beach has some infrastructure, with vendors renting lounge chairs and umbrellas.  You find a lot of these umbrella vendors around Greek beaches since there are often very few options for shade.

Looking along the southern coast.  The high point in the background is the highest on the main island, which is funny since it doesn't sit along the caldera.  Every Greek I talked to had something slightly negative to say about how developed Santorini was... the entire island is pretty much either town, village, or farmland.  This, of course, is a result of its fame and the throngs of tourists (and their money) that visit the island, which supports such a large local economy and population.

Back up on the caldera rim on the south side of the island, you can again see the high point in the background.   You can also see all of the development along the caldera rim.  Grapes and various Mediterranean crops are grown on the island.  Santorini is particularly famous for its tomatoes.  We became quite addicted to the sun dried tomatoes in spiced olive oil while we were there... incredibly delicious with some fresh bread.  The bread wasn't anything special by European standards, but it still tasted fantastic dipped in the delicious, fresh olive oil.  Since they grow grapes, they also produce a local wine, which was a drier, peppery red with notes of spice.  Of course the cheese was delicious too... particularly the fresh feta.  All in all, it was difficult to beat a picnic of wine, cheese, bread, and those sun dried tomatoes while watching sunset from a select spot along the caldera rim.

Thira is just remarkably photogenic.  Since we were there in summer, the sunsets were nice and long and late in the day.  We did our best to always be out with our cameras ready around sunset.  The blue domed churches, as seen here, are iconically Greek.  We were told that it is no coincidence that the colors are the same as on the Greek flag.  Supposedly, during the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II, Greek flags were banned; so, it became quite popular to paint buildings with the national colors, to show the Greece had not given up its defiance or independent spirit.  I don't know if this is true or if these buildings have been painted these colors since before WWII, but either way, it is plain evidence of how proud Greeks are of their country.

There are a lot of churches around Santorini, as you might be able to tell from this post.  Since most churches are built to be beautiful or at least architecturally appealing buildings, they do add a nice touch to a photograph, whether in the background or foreground.  And whether blue domed or not, they definitely add significantly to the character of Santorini.

One nice option for an evening out is to enjoy a sunset dinner in Ia, the relatively large town on the northern end of Thira.  Ia is supposedly the most photographed place in Santorini, which makes sense considering its dense cluster of brightly colored and stark white buildings, including plenty of churches and windmills, all clinging seemingly impossibly to the rugged cliffs.  Ia has several restaurants that offer sunset views for dinner.  We decided on a wine tavern, which turned out to be just perfect.

Another popular option for sunset watching in Ia is to go to the old fort, the ruins of which sit at the top of a prominent hill very near the tip of the crescent.  I'd recommend getting there early though, as it gets crowded and spots go fast.

Sunset from the wine bar.  The food wasn't the best we had, but still quite nice.  The setting was damned near perfect, with uninterrupted views of the setting sun behind the nearest islands.  An added benefit was that the wine was not expensive and definitely plentiful, lending that nice cloak of blissful warmth to a good evening. 

Fira, seen here perched atop the cliffs, is the largest town on Thira and the main spot for accommodation, food, services, and nightlife.  

The walk from Imerovigli to Fira is a great one along the old path.  The views along the way are some of the best on the island and the architecture you pass along the way is just brilliant.  You can peruse the other hotels and guest houses, with their variety of features like infinity pools and hot tubs with epic views.  There is also this great old church too.

This church was very photogenic... most of the buildings around the island are painted white.  Since many of them are built right into the cliffs, they also tend to have the cave-like characteristic of being several degrees cooler than outside during the day and warmer than outside over night.

On most days, Fira is swarmed by cruise tourists.   Many days, several cruise ships arrive in the morning to unload their throngs of day-trippers on the quiet little island.  The vast majority of these end up lolling about in Fira, so I can definitely recommend avoiding the town when you see more than one of the behemoth ships anchored in the caldera.   Fortunately, though, most of the cruise ships depart before sunset; so, evenings and nights bring much more reasonable amounts of people, all of whom are actually committed to spending a respectable amount of time on the island.  The ships seen above are not cruise ships... they are private yachts.  Yes, you get plenty of those tourists there too.

When not packed shoulder to shoulder with cruise folks, Fira is a pretty fun and very nice little town.  It is great to walk around the center and get lost in the small maze of lanes and passages west of the main square.  There are plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants, and other services in Fira, but if you're shopping for souvenirs, I'd recommend Ia more, since there are plenty of shops there too and the prices are much more reasonable.  Fira also offers a healthy bar scene and booming nightlife.

More fun church domes... these ones were just setup on top of a particularly bland roof!  I love the difference in these two as well... the one on the left being so simple and traditional and in direct contrast to the ornate one on the right.

It's practically impossible to visit Fira without at least hearing about the gondola, donkeys, and old port. Fira is the cultural and social center of the island because of the old port, which lies far below at the base of the cliffs.  The reason why it is located there is because it is one of the few places on the caldera side where they could build a decent sized path down the cliffs to sea level.  This path now serves as a foot path and donkey trail, allowing people several options between the town above and the ships below.  A more recent addition is the gondola, which ferries tourists up and down the cliffs in only a few minutes.

There is no doubt, Fira is a lovely town.  As I mentioned before, the way these buildings have progressively crept along the edges of the cliffs is just so organic... it really is beautiful and amazingly comforting for some reason.

Sunset options from Fira aren't too bad either!  As in Ia, people line up any place with a view to stop and appreciate the passing of another day.

A new day, on to the Old Port and volcano.  Ah, and here is one of those cruise ships I was mentioning... there were actually three in port that day.  This picture offers a nice view down the donkey trail to the old port below.  Be wary on the path... there is donkey feces galore and the beasts of burden themselves have little concern for people on foot.  They will bump you if you don't mind them, and you definitely don't want to take a spill over the ledge.  The gondola lines are also visible in this pic too.

From the old port, seen here in the distance with Fira above and the donkey trail zig-zagging up the cliffs connecting the two, it is quite straightforward to catch a boat tour out to the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, in the middle of the caldera.  From this vantage point, you see much clearer evidence of the massive volcano all around you.  Nea Kameni itself is all volcanic rock, dark and often porous, and there are several steaming vents too.  From the summit point, the circular shape of the greater caldera is also unavoidably noticeable as you look around all 360 degrees.  Lastly, there are the layers in the cliffs, which are deposits of ash and debris from previous eruptions!  The top-most layer, very near the top of the cliffs, is from the eruption that wiped out the Mycenaeans.  That event is thought to be the origin of the legend of Atlantis... more on this to come in this and later posts.

The relatively young age of Nea Kameni is given away by the remarkably little amount of vegetation on it.  It is virtually barren.  I kid you not, this island has supposedly only existed since the 1707-1711 eruption!  The latest chunk of land spilled out during the eruption in 1950.  This is some fresh earth...

When you arrive by boat for a tour of the island, you will likely pull into this little cove.  The color of the water changes abruptly here from the deep blue of the caldera, to this emerald green, and then rust red/orange right at the shore.  It is quite impressive.  There are trails around the island, so one can go off and explore.  The main trail takes hikers up to the cone and crater that form the apex of the island.  At the top (and probably elsewhere around the island) there are steaming thermal vents, reminding you that you're walking around on a dormant and deadly behemoth.

On one of the little islands adjacent to Nea Kameni is a thermal springs.  The water here is nice and warm, around 25 deg C (80 deg F) or so, and the temperature gradient as you swim into the cove is just awesome.  This island is also home to a shepherd, who supposedly lives in this place.  Local lore has it that this guy's lambs are the most delicious in Santorini since the water they drink is very briny... supposedly the fresh water source on this little rock isn't really that fresh.  Anyway, claim has it that because of the water, the lamb comes pre-seasoned (I'm guessing that's just how the joke goes to amuse tourists).

And of course, there is also a church on the essentially deserted little volcanic island.  I can't complain about that though... it is tremendously photogenic perched on its little outcrop with Nea Kameni and Fira on the cliffs in the background.

On the boat ride back from Nea Kameni and the thermal springs, we stopped by Ia for sunset.  The town and its own little port just light up in the low level light.  When the sun when down below the Aegean (sorry, no green flash), the captain sounded the horn, as did those of the other boats around us, celebrating the sunset and another perfect day.

My wife and I also spent some time in Ia, the picturesque little town at the tip of Thira.

Ia is definitely the most photographed place on the island... most of the picture-perfect settings that are found on postcards of Santorini are found in Ia.  There are plenty of other gems too beside the most photographed churches and windmills though.  For example, the way these crimson flowers contrasted so nicely with all the blues and whites and browns so typical of the scenery around the island was just too much for me to pass by without snapping a shot.

Ia is most famous for its churches, despite the fact that the vast, vast majority of people that see the pictures just think "Oh, that's Greece" or (fewer) "Santorini".

These three domes are pretty well recognized...

This one is definitely famous... and it isn't at all tough to get a decent shot of it... just time the lighting right.

There is actually another little church (or shrine) down in a sea cave in the little island seen here below Ia.  You can see part of the infrastructure for it on the lower left side of the island.  Seriously, there are churches everywhere around Santorini.

Did I mention how much I loved the organic architecture?  We enjoyed one of our last sunsets from the old fort ruins overlooking Ia.  This was our view of the town... I just love how the structures have seemingly grown one on top of the other and how the walkways and staircases twist around them and hug contours of the terrain.  The lighting wasn't too bad either.  

Its a very pleasant town... it is packed at sunset and the last buses back to Fira are very, very crowded, but after most of the rest leave or earlier in the day, Ia is exceedingly pleasant.  I think I may look into accommodation there if I ever return to the lovely island.

I told you the churches and windmills tend to steal the show at Ia... for good reasons I guess.  Well, there you have it, my whirlwind tour of Santorini.  It was hands down one of the most spectacular and beautiful places I've ever seen and romantic beyond description, even with the massive amounts of tourists.  The island has a special charm, and I don't think it is anywhere near possible to find that during the 8-10 hours allotted from a cruise ship... Santorini is a place that should be savored over days at a slow, calm, and relaxed pace.