Suitcase and World: Fira and Hopes Dashed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fira and Hopes Dashed.

Panorama Oia
Awesome panoramic shot by Bro! Use the scroll bars to pan to see the entire photo.

Some days things go as planned and others, not. Today fell into the latter category. More on that later. For now, flashback to morning. It was the sound of Bro opening the front door that woke me up. I had said that I had wanted to get up early to return to the promontory to get another set of photos.  I peered out the window and could see the sun just peeking over the horizon. 

If I rushed, I would have made it to the promontory in time but it was so comfy in bed that I decided to skip the photo session.  Bro ordinarily takes only a photo here or there - he's really not into taking pictures. But, on this morning, I think his hidden talent came through.  The stunning panoramic photo above plus the next two were taken by him.  Both are great shots!

A lone photographer and his tripod, upper left, snapping away at the sun rise.

By the time I rustled out of bed, the sun was up.  There was as stillness in the air - quiet as the village was just coming to life.  I headed out to the patio to take in the morning.   There was no sight of Bro but the gate was open so I figured he must have gone on a walk.  I sipped on a cup of tea waiting for him to return.

Bro hadn't walked far - just down to the end of the pathway that runs alongside our apartment and several others.  That's where he went to enjoy an early morning view of the caldera.

When he got back, it was time for breakfast.  I love to cook but when we travel, I relinquish those duties to Bro.  Bro's menu was toast, hard boiled eggs, yogurt with fruit and honey.

We decided that today, we would take the bus to Fira instead of the ferry to Thirassia.  Thirassia seems like a pretty quiet place to begin with and I was fearful that at this time of year, it would essentially be dead - not much of any thing to do or see to keep us occupied for a few hours.  More importantly, we had to buy our ferry tickets to Mykonos and Samos as we are Greek island hopping our way to Turkey.  I had read that the port is in Fira so it would see to make sense to go there and get our tickets.

We cleaned up after breakfast and Bro prepped some food for a picnic lunch.  We then set off.  First, another quick walk through Oia before heading to the bus station.

The path leading from our house to the main street in Oia.

Another of the bride.  We must have encountered at least a dozen by now!

View of Oia and Thirassia from the point outside the gate that leads to the path to that leads to our apartment.

The  main cobblestone street that runs through the village. 

The buildings in Oia are typically painted white.  Every now and again, we would see buildings painted in vibrant colors.  Nice change of pace. 

Makes me happy just looking at the bright colors!
Sculpture of a sphinx,  a figure in Greek mythology.

There's a lot of charming artwork in Oia.

I'm king of Oia!

Lots of churches in Oia and so, lots of bell towers.  I think the tiered design is typical of Greek Orthodox churches.

Your's truly.  Forever with a camera glued to her face!

Oia's bus *station*  is located just around the corner from the main square.  It was still a bit too early in the morning - the daily onslaught of day trippers, from the cruise ships, had not yet happened.   It's the only time of day that you can take a photo of this church without a million other bodies standing in the way.

The Church of Panagia of Platsani.

Looking back at the water.  The ferry was leaving Oia. 

The only park we encountered.  It has a marvelous view of the Aegean Sea which lies in the distance.

From the church, it was barely a 5 minute walk to the bus station, which really isn't a bus station.  We kept looking for some sort of a terminal building but there is nothing like that.  We had come here yesterday, when we were wandering about looking for a supermarket.  We watched several buses come and go and we figure this is the location.   I remember that Yannis had told me that the airport shuttle would drop us off at the bus station and that we could ask the girls at the Ecorama Travel agency to call him and he would come and meet us.  Of course, this was before I told him we were arriving at 7:00am.  This morning, we spotted a travel agency (didn't see anything naming it Ecorama) and the bus schedule was tacked to their front door so Bro headed inside to see where we were suppose to go to wait for the bus.  The young girl basically waved her hand, pointing to the general space outside.  Okay.  I headed inside a convenience store and bought us a couple of waters and then we crossed the street and waited, along with some other people who looked like tourists.

We watched as tour buses pulled in and out.  We had no idea what the local bus looked like.  

Wasn't long before other tourists had arrived at the station.

Then a bus pulled up and we watched several tourists board.  Curious, we stood in line.  When we got up front, Bro stuck his head in the door and asked, "Fira?".  The driver nodded and we boarded.

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It most certainly was a very comfortable bus.  Felt more like a tour bus than a local bus but I wasn't complaining!  Once everyone had gotten on board and the bus was headed down the road, the conductor came around for payment - 1.60 Euro each.  Cheap ride.

The bus left for Fira on the same seaside road that arrived in on yesterday morning.  It was nice to finally be able to see the view.   We were both surprised at how high up we were and how arid the landscape is.  It was also a bit surprisingly at how sparsely populated the *lowland* area is - everyone is crammed in on the villages hugging the cliffside.   The road was a windy one.

Our first stop was the village of Immerovigli.  I could see a few tourists walking about town.  Nothing on the scale of Oia.   We dropped off a few passengers before continuing on.

Next stop was the even smaller village of Firastefani.  We dropped off a few people and picked up a few.

From the Google images that I've seen of both Immerovigli and Firastefani, both have the charming whitewashed buildings and cobblestone streets as Oia has but both are far smaller.  I'm sure that accommodations in both are also far more reasonably priced than Oia.  If I were ever to come back to Santorini, I would staying in one of these two villages instead. Most certainly,  you can bus over to Oia or Fira to see the sights and then retreat to the smaller village for quieter times.

Our last stop was Fira.  We were deposited in a lot, alongside a slew of other buses.  This is what I had in mind when I think of a bus station.  We didn't have a map of Fira in hand so we stopped for a few seconds to look at the posted map.  Pretty straightforward layout - little chance we were going to get lost wandering about.  We just had to note down a few landmarks so we could make it back to the bus station.

From where we were standing, there was a cobblestone street leading up a hill.  The souvenir stores were a sure sign that was the direction to head in if you're a tourist.  So, we went.  The road curved to the right and dead ended on a pedestrian only street which turned out to be the main street running through Fira.  It looked and felt like Oia but on a larger scale. 

The new port is situated at the bottom of the cliffside here so the cruise ships can easily deposit tourists for day visits.  A million tourists, okay actual number much lower but it felt like a million, had already filled the narrow street.  Ack!  There is no escaping them.  If this is low season for Oia, I can't imagine how horrible it must be during high travel season!

We paused a bit to take in the view of the caldera.

View of Immerovigli and in far distance, Oia.  Somewhere below us is the port.

Ferry arriving, Nea Kameni (extinct volcano) just behind the ferry.

We then plunged ourselves into the heart of the tourist zone - one souvenir shop after another, one restaurant after another, one cafe after another.  Very shoppy, shoppy, as Bro would say.   Really, not our cup of tea.  Then, we happened upon a travel agency.  The sign outside said they sold ferry tickets so we headed inside.

There were two men at the counter.  We waited our turn.  I told the man we wanted to get a ferry ticket to Mykonos on October 9 with a connection to a ferry to Samos.  Our plan was to spend the night in Samos and then take the ferry the next day to Kuşadası,Turkey.  He turned to his computer screen and started entering our search requirements. I wasn't prepared for the not-so-good news that he delivered.  
  • The ferry to Mykonos leaves at 2:45pm on October 9 and arrives at 4:45pm.  
  • We would have to take the 9:30pm ferry from Mykonos to Samos, arriving at 1:30am into the port of Karlovassi.  It's now October 10.
  • From there, we have to take a taxi for an hour long ride to the capital city of Vathy where our hotel is.  We then check in, catch a bit of sleep and then check out a few hours later. 
  • At 5pm, we catch the ferry for the hour and half long ride to Kuşadası.
Hearing the news, my heart sank a bit. It was exactly the news I was hoping for and most certainly, it would not be anyone's idea of Greek island hopping.  In my mind, it was just a painful way to travel from Greece to Turkey.  So, I asked the guy if there were any alternatives. Truly, he was as helpful as he could be which was not very helpful at all.

Bro and I sat down to take in the news.  We bounced around a couple of ideas including going from Mykonos to Syros to Samos and then to Kuşadası.  Without having to give it even a second of thought, the man immediately nixed the idea - we would have to pay more and we wouldn't get to Samos any sooner.  Arghhh.....Greek ferry schedules are just about the most exasperating things I've ever had to deal with in all my years of traveling!  Not a happy traveler.

By the time we came up with our third idea - ferry to Mykonos and then from there, fly to Samos, the guy who was helping us out had gone.  So, we went to talk to his office mate and told him our idea.  Without hesitation, he said he did not sell airline tickets even though the agency sign said they did.  What the ???

We decided to try another travel agency.

Back out on the main street, we walked on, chatting about our travel plans and not really paying any attention to the sights around us.  We really didn't see anything of Fira once we left the travel agency.

Near the bus station, we happened across another travel agency.  Turned out to be a local tour agency so they sent us around the corner to one that they said could handle ferry and airline tickets.

Third place. It was pretty empty but there was only one person behind the counter and she was helping another couple.  While Bro and I waited, we bounced around some other ideas.  We headed up to the counter and from her body language, I knew we were facing a not so helpful woman. She basically gave us the same bad news about the ferry schedules as we had gotten from the first guy.  As I told Bro, there aren't that many ferries running in the off season so it's not surprising that we're getting the same information back.  When we brought up the idea of flying, we also suggested flying from Santorini to Izmir, which is the airport that serves Kuşadası.  She ran our search through her system.  We can fly from Santorini to Izmir but they flight lays over in Athens.  That seemed like an option. We then asked if we could purchase the airplane tickets through her and she replied, no.  Her agency only handle Olympic Airlines and the flight we wanted was an Aegean Airlines flight.  We would have to check out the flight options with the agency down the street.

Agency number 4.  This place was hopping with people.  Good sign.  We approached the counter and asked about the ferry schedule.  Same response as the other two places.  By now, I was fully convinced that island hopping our way to Turkey was not to be.  We then asked about flight options and he passed us along to his colleague.

We finally hit paydirt!  A woman who not only found a flight for us but found a cheap option AND.....was able to make ALL the bookings for us.  Santorini to Kuşadası in one day. A couple of downsides but to both of us, they were bearable.  First, we had to get back to Athens.... By overnight ferry.  To me, sleeping on the ferry was easily doable.  Bro was on board as long as the seats could recline and the woman assured him the ferry was comfortable, never answering the question about the seats.  I don't think she knew the answer.  The 8:30pm ferry arrives into Athens (port at Piraeus)  at 5:15am.  The flight to Izmir leaves Athens at 2:15pm and arrives an hour later.  Big questions.  What are we going to do from 5:15am til we have to leave for the airport, in Athens?  And what are we going to do with our luggage.  My heart was still low but this option was far better than any we've had so far. Bro was a bit upset with us because I immediately told the woman go with the cheaper flight option which left at 2:15pm versus a higher cost option that left around noon.  Ooops...I really should have listened through before responding.  Oh well, point taken.

We thanked the woman for all her assistance and left.

So, my grand plan of island hopping our way across Greece to Turkey was not to be.  But, I was glad that we finally had a firm plan in hand.  I do not do well with uncertainty.  Outside the travel agency, we took a double look at our tickets.  The plane tickets were indeed with Aegean Airlines. The ferry tickets were with a line called F/B Prevalis.  I had never heard of it so we Googled it to confirm that it is a legitimate line.  It is.  All looked to be in order.

All toll, we spent about 2 hours dealing with the ticket issues and while I was very relieved we had everything taken care of, I had lost interest in spending any more time in Fira.  I just wanted to get back to Oia.  But, we did need to come down from our anxiety high.  Bro whipped out his picnic lunch.  Fresh veggies, fresh fruit, and some hard boiled eggs.  We found a shady spot to sit in and slowly refocused our energies on Fira.

Believe it or not, he recycled the white plastic container that held the yogurt
we bought when we were in Athens!!

After eating, we walked about a bit longer but we were pretty much done.  We headed back to the bus station, found the bus for Oia and got on board.  Maybe one day I'll come back and devote time to properly seeing Fira.

By the time we got back to Oia, it was already late afternoon.

Quick pit stop at the market to pick up more fruits.  He can never have enough fruits!

Back in our little apartment, we relaxed for a while before venturing out again.  It's really peaceful here.  The sight of the donkeys got us going.  I wanted to see the caravans coming up the steps so I dragged Bro out with me.

We had a direct and unobstructed view of the donkey caravans from our apartment patio.

It was curious to us that so many donkey caravans were coming and going along the same route. We decided we wanted to check out where they were coming from or as was the case yesterday, where they were going to.    The sign pointed to the Bay of Armeni.

Just as we were nearing the steps leading down to Armeni Bay, we heard the familiar tinkling bells of a caravan of donkeys approaching.  We heard shouts of, "stand to the right" but we had no idea which side was "right" so we just stood where we were.  As the donkeys neared us, we moved aside to give them the space they needed to pass.  One of them had two tourist suitcases strapped to its back.

Down the steps we went, in the footpaths of the donkeys who had arrived before us.  We didn't get too far before we heard more bells. Another group approaching.  The steps were narrow; we had to find a nook to dart in to so there would be room for them to pass by.

Thankfully, the steps leading down to Armeni Bay were not where as many or as steep as those leading down to Aremeni Bay.   It's a quieter stretch of the island here.

Looking back at our little apartment.  People are already gathering above for the sun set!

Unlike Ammoudi Bay, there wasn't anything to see Armeni Bay, just a few boats anchored close to shore.  There were some people walking towards us and when we asked where the path ended, they said, "the beach".  Somewhere, out of our eyesight, was a beach and possibly, a small village.  I wasn't too keen on exploring any further.   Bro might have gone on but because I wasn't going, he wasn't either.

I still can't get over the color of the crystal clear water in Greece - gorgeous shades of turquoise blue and green.  There's truly something special about the Aegean Sea.

We turned around and headed back up the steps.  When we reached the top, we came across a familiar face.  It was Yannis.  Apparently, someone had called from the port asking if there was a vacancy.  When Yannis replied that there was, the person said they were on their way.  By the time we met up with Yannis, he had been waiting for over an hour and a half.  Poor guy.  I think he got stood up.  He said he didn't mind the wait as he had nothing else to do.  I guess it's what you do when every potential customer represents potential Euros!

Being in the seasonal tourist trade is most certainly not an easy way to make a living.  According to Yannis, come November 6, pretty much all of the accommodations in Oia will have shuttered up for the season.  November 6 is the magical date because November is the last date that the majority of flights from the rest of Europe land in Santorini.  Anyone who wants to come to Santorini after November 5 will have to find accommodation in one of the larger villages e.g., Immerovigli or Fira.  Even the restaurants in Oia will be closed.  The place transforms overnight into a ghost town.  By the time November 6 rolls around, Yannis will have been here 8 months, having left his family behind in Athens.  He was very much looking forward to going home and I can't blame him one bit!  I was tired of the tourists after having been here for only two days - can't imagine having to endure them for 8 long months!

Chatting with Yannis.

Back in the apartment, we relaxed the rest of the day away.  Today was our last day in Oia.  Tomorrow, we are heading to Kamari where we will spend our last two days in Santorini.  So, I took some time to finalize some arrangements for the next two days and repacking my suitcase.

Bro did his nightly chef duties - a repeat of our dinner last night.

Variation of a Greek salad - with pomegranate seeds. Very refreshing!

Tonight, I sat outside until it got dark.  I wanted to capture one last night time photo before leaving this idyllic place.  We've had a wonderful two days here!

This place is gorgeous any time of day!

Goodnight from Oia!