Suitcase and World: More Ruins. Ancient Thera.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More Ruins. Ancient Thera.

We started our day with doing a bit of laundry.  We had noticed that there was a good sized drying rack outside our room.  With the full sun and dry weather here, we figured our clothes would dry easily in one day.  Nice thing about staying in a modest accommodation like this guest house is that you can hang your laundry out to dry.  We truly are budget travelers!

After making sure every piece of clothing was hung up securely, we headed to the main room for breakfast.  We were the first ones there.  A few tables had already been set up, ready for guests and it was obvious they were setup to account for exact number of guests.  We took seats at a table that was obviously meant for two.  Our host, who was sitting behind the computer at the reception desk, leapt to his feet and headed to the kitchen to get our meal ready.

It was simple, modest breakfast albeit as seemingly odd combo of food.  Some bread with butter and jam, some cake, a grilled cheese sandwich, juice and tea.  I missed my egg :-(  I do have to say that the freshly squeezed orange juice here is worth every drop to drink.  It's so delicious!

Our guesthouse, Acropole Sunrise.  Follow the red path to get to our room.

As our host was bringing food to our table, we struck up a conversation with him.  He was curious about what our plans were for the day and I told him that we were going to Ancient Thera in the morning. I asked him if the site was worth visiting and as expected, he gave me a positive reply.  Before we could continue the rest of our conversation, another couple entered and our host had to go tend to their meal.

Before we went to Ancient Thera, we had one administrative task to take care of.  Because of our change in plans i.e., taking the overnight ferry back to Athens versus the day ferry to Mykonos, we decided to extend our car rental by a day.  I had called the rental agency office yesterday and they instructed us to go to their office to revise the contract.  So, we decided to take care of the matter as soon as we could so that's the first thing we did.

Yesterday, we had gotten a map of Kamari from our guesthouse host. Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised to see the car rental agency, Loizos, on the map.  Looked pretty straightforward to get to the place so we set off.  In less than 5 minutes, we arrived a parking lot that looked like it was located adjacent to the spot on the map where Loizos was suppose to be.  We've gotten spoiled with the parking here - free as long as you don't block anyone.  Love it!

Bro has done all the driving on this trip.  I've been spoilt being the passenger :-)

We followed the map.  Loizos was suppose to be one in a line of shops. We saw the shops but no Loizos.  We walked around - here, there and everywhere.  We passed by a lot of hotels, some were pretty swanky.  All were relatively empty as it's nearing the end of tourist season.  I was beginning to get frustrated.  I don't have the patience that Bro has for wandering about looking for something.  At  one point, I lost sight of him.  Luckily, we managed to meet up with each other.  My good news for him was that I noticed the sign pointing to the road leading up to Ancient Thera; he noticed as well.  His good news for me was that he found someone who told him that Loizos had relocated to one of the main streets leading towards Kamari Beach, just a short walk from where we were standing.

So, off we went.  Sure enough, we found Loizos as we had hoped to find it.  Inside, it took us a few minutes to get our contract revised.  At the same time, I wanted to find out if we could drop the car off at the Athinios Port, which was where we had to go to catch the ferry back to Athens.  Car rental is so easy here.  They had absolutely no issue with us dropping the car off at Athinios so before we left the office, we agreed to drop off time and location and instructions for where to leave the keys.

With the rental car taken car of, we could now enjoy the rest of our day!  First, we headed back down to the seaside promenade.  We had only been here at night and we were curious about what it looked liked in the day.  It was less than a 10 minute walk to the promenade but we got distracted along the way. First at the bakery across the street from Loizos.  I had visions of spanokopita tickling my tastebuds but alas, it was not to be. The shelves were pretty empty - just a few sweet pastries and none of it was appealing. Kamari is also beginning to shut down for the season so even the bakery is scaling back on its offerings.

Next, it was the fig trees that caught Bro's attention. He never tells me when he decides to wander off.  I turned around to look at something and by the time I turned back, he was gone.  I found him scouting out a few trees.  He knows it's past the season for figs but he's still hoping to find some that he can forage.

The promenade was really quite, barely anyone walking about.  We didn't get to see much in the dark last night.  Today, we saw all the hotels and restaurants with all the empty seats.  I can imagine how packed this place must be during high season -  when every seat is taken and those who can't sit are standing and spilling out on to the promenade.

It was a hot day and of course, I had gelato on my mind.  We found a place and I got a pricey scoop of pistachio in a cup.  No, not anywhere as good as the one I had in Nafplio - that gelato will forever be the benchmark against which I will measure all other pistachio gelatos.  Perhaps I have to go to Italy to find one better!

After a short time on the promenade, we walked back to the car and it was off to Ancient Thera.  I didn't realize the site was located at the top of a hill.  Not an issue.  We followed the sign and took the road leading up the hill.  It was a VERY narrow cobblestone road that zigzagged its way to the top.   Bro took it slow. 

The straight sections between the hairpin turns were so short that Ms. Google Maps was lagging behind.  By the time she figured out we had to make a turn, we had already done three!  It was pointless listening to her.  I figured the road would dead end at the site.  After all, it's at the top of a hill.  Where else you can go once you're at the top?  So I shut off Ms. Google.

Bro drove carefully.  It was close to our starting point when we noticed people walking up. 

The squiggly road to Ancient Thera.

We chugged our way up the steep hill which turned to smooth paved road as we neared the top.  All along the way we continued to pass people walking up.  For a split second, I wondered if we should have been doing the same but the further up we drove, the more I realized just how long the walk would have been.  My estimate was that it would take them at least an hour to hike up.   In the Santorini heat, I wouldn't have enjoyed the walk, especially since the view was pretty much the same all the way up.

As we neared the top of the hill, we saw a line of parked cars - a sure sign we had arrived.  We found ourselves to slide in to.  The view from where we had parked was spectacular - we could see all of Kamari laid out before us. 

On the way to the entrance, we passed by a small food kiosk.  The wind was blowing and it was a bit chilly.  I noticed a couple of people, sitting around the kiosk, with paper coffee cups in hand.  Hmmm.....could've had one to warm up with.

There was no entry fee but from what we thought was the top of the hill, we still had to climb up.  We followed the dirt path.

Hiking our way up to Ancient Thera. 

I thought the view we had from the parking area was spectacular but it kept getting better and we got to see another part of the island as the path wound around the hill.

Looking over the seaside village of Perissa, the *other* popular black sand beach.

Great view means photo op! 

Ancient Thera are the ruins of foremost post-Minoan settlement on the island. I had no expectations about what I was going to see at Ancient Thera but I have to say, I was surprised at how large the site was.

Whatever these structures were, they had a fantastic view of the Aegean Sea!

The buildings are spread over a long terraced area and include remains of an early Christian basilica, market-places; foundations of temples and houses, baths, an impressive amphitheatre, and relief rock carvings.  Unfortunately, we didn't have a site map with us so we had to rely on the descriptive plaques to tell us what we were looking at.  Refer to Ministry of Culture and Sport website for information on the important monuments to stop and see.

Eventually, the path flattened out and we were in the heart of the ancient city.  Lots of organized rocks :-)

Up on the hilltop, the ruins of a church dedicated to Agios Stefanos (Saint Stephen)

The higher up we went, the more wonderful the views.  From this elevation, we could easily see the airport runway that we had landed on just three short days ago.

We figured the plaques identified site highlights so we stopped to read them.  Doesn't mean we remember what we read :-)

The Temenos of Artemidoros was one of those important stops.  I had no idea what a temenos is so I had to Google for a definition.  A temenos is a piece of land that is specifically set aside for worship of the gods or as a sanctuary. In this case, it's the latter and it was built by the priest Artemidoros of Apollonios. The open-air sanctuary was chiseled out of the rock by Artemidoros himself with altars, relief decorations and numerous inscriptions covering the rock faces.

Temenos of Artemidoros

On the left side of the rock face is a sitting animal (lion, perhaps?) and on the right side, a sitting bird.

More reliefs.  On the smaller of the two rocks, a profile of a man.

Every town, modern or ancient has to have a market place.  Here's the agora.

In ancient times, the agora also served as a place of meeting and assembly for citizens and thus was the center of the city's public and political life.  It was the hub of everything!

We passed one section where there were a lot of carved rocks just sitting on the ground.  Perhaps archaeologists are still working on trying to figure out where each piece goes? 

I love the ancient inscriptions. I read somewhere that written Greek has changed little over the centuries so a person today could
actually make out what the ancient inscription says.  I don't know how true that really is.

Every city has to have its performing arts center as well so here's the amphitheater.  What a magnificent place this must have been to come for a performance, especially with the breathtaking view the Aegean Sea as the backdrop!

It must have been quite a challenge for the Minoans to build their city atop this hill but wow, what a great location.  You can't beat the view!

Sanctuary of Apollo Pythios.  I don't know how archeologists figured out the layout of this city from the ruins strewn about!

It was just rock everywhere.  I wondered where the Minoans farmed and grazed their animals. After all, they had to feed themselves.  Perhaps, they did that in land at sea level?  I didn't see any cisterns either but I'm sure they existed.

We walked around the site for about an hour or so.  Before we left, we had a quick picnic lunch.  Bro had brought some leftovers from Oia.  We had a fridge in our room at Acropole Sunrise so he could keep his yogurt fresh.  That Greek yogurt is truly something delicious!

Heading back to the car.

On our drive back down to Kamari, we came across a bit of a roadblock.  A small white car was sitting sideways, just before one of the hairpin turns, blocking both lanes.  We had no choice but to stop our car.  As we were about to get out of the car, a young Chinese man approached us and told us that he had tried to negotiate the turn but for some reason, the car didn't have enough power to move up.  In fact, it slid back slightly before the guy could bring the car to a full stop. He didn't think he had enough power to go forward and he was afraid that he would continue to slide backwards.  He was quite embarrassed and very apologetic and I felt sorry for him.  Poor guy.  But, he was not about to hold me up so Bro and I decided to help him out of the predicament.  As we got out of our car, a young Chinese girl got out of the passenger seat of the other car.  His girlfriend? She was dressed in a frilly dress and shoes to match.  Not clothing appropriate for tromping through Ancient Thera but I'm guessing she had no clue about the walking conditions.  What to do?  I digress.  When I first saw the girl,  I was thinking she could steer the car while the two guys and I pushed it in to a position where they could drive off but on second look, I knew she was not going to be of any use in this situation.

With the car in neutral and the young Chinese man behind the wheel, we managed to push the car so he could drive back down the hill, which he did. He thanked us as he drove off - I told him to keep driving.

As Bro and I made our way back down the hill, we wondered about that poor guy.  His car was larger than ours and we were able to make it up the hill.  Bro's thoughts were that he didn't know how to drive up the hill e.g., you have to accelerate as you approach the hairpin turn to build up some speed.  I think Bro was right.