Santorini…Ancient Ruins, Wine, and Breathtaking Views

(Disclaimer:  We were writing blog posts daily during our cruise, but the wifi was so abysmally slow, it would take 5 or 6 hours to upload 10 photos or so.  Now that we’re home, we’re adding the photos and posting…)

We were all excited to visit Santorini on this trip since none of us had ever been here before.  As such, we booked a tour to try to allow us to see as much of the island as possible while we visited.  The tour took us to the Akrotiri ruins, a winery, and the Village of Oia.

First up was a drive to Akrotiri to see what is called the “Pompeii of the Aegean.”  Santorini is a volcanic island, and in 1627 BC, there was an eruption that destroyed this ancient population, and left it buried in volcanic ash for about 3600 years, thus preserving much of the site.  Akrotiri predates Pompeii by about 1700 years (their eruption happened in 79 AD).  It was discovered when they were looking to mine stone from Santorini to build the Suez Canal in the 1950s, and they’ve been excavating ever since.  Because of the site’s age, they’ve built wooden paths to walk through the ruins and a roof over the top to protect it from the elements.

Many of the frescoes painted on the walls of the homes in Akrotiri were preserved in incredible detail (but have been removed and placed in museums in Greece to help preserve them further).  The civilization was quite advanced — they had indoor toilets and a sewage system that utilized gravity to allow the sewage to flow through pipes.  Some of their buildings were three stories tall.  They also found remains of the beds that they slept in, as well as much pottery in a site that was clearly their marketplace.  It is known to have been a very wealthy settlement because of their location on the sailing route between Crete and Cyprus.  No human remains were found at Akrotiri (other than in grave sites), leading archaeologists to believe that they evacuated to try to avoid the volcanic eruption.  Some historians believe that Akrotiri was the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis — so maybe we were walking through this fabled location after all!

After our tour of Akrotiri, we went to a family owned winery in Santorini, Domaine Sigalas, that has been recognized as one of the top 100 wineries.  In Santorini, they do not grow their most of their grapevines upright.  Rather, they train the vines to grow in a circular shape low to the ground, allowing the leaves to form a canopy over the vines and the fruit to hang inside, protecting it from the hot Mediterranean sun.  We tried a white varietal known as Assyrtiko, which is very different from any white wine we’d ever tasted.  It was much more acidic than many white wines, but it was very good.  We brought home a couple of bottles.  We also tried their Vin Santo dessert wine. It was very good as well…they lay the grapes out in the sun to dry into raisins before they press to extract the wine.  It had an almost amber color and a very rich flavor.

After we did our wine tasting, it was time to make the drive up to the Village of Oia to see those famous white buildings with the blue domes.  It is definitely an old village, with very narrow streets and lots of steep paths to walk.  While it is a beautiful village, much like Mykonos, it was very, very crowded.  We did walk around and take lots of photos as there really is nothing else like it in the world.

The one downside to visiting Santorini by cruise ship is that there is no dock large enough, so you are required to get to the island by a tender boat that docks at the base of the mountain that leads up to the Village of Fira.  Unfortunately, there are only 3 ways to get up and down from the village back to the tender boat dock — ride a donkey up a steep path of steps, walk the 588 stairs on foot (sharing the path with the donkeys and their droppings), or take a cable car.  We took the cable car back down, but so did everyone else, resulting in about a 1 1/2 hour wait to get back to the ship.  While we had plenty of time, the wait in the hot sunshine clearly wasn’t the way we wanted to end our day.

Finally, when we got back to the ship, we had been invited to watch the sail away from the helipad at the front of the ship again.  A very nice way to end our very interesting day!

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