Cruise ships in front of Thira
Queen Victoria is the first ship to enter the caldera of Santorini on this bright morning. A few minutes later the luxury ship Silver Spirit appears. There are no quays for large cruise ships; the ships are moored off the main island of Thira in the bay of the caldera, which is up to 700 meters deep. The ships do not anchor, they keep their position by means of a dynamic positioning system.
Santorini - cruise ships in front of Nea Kameni
The third ship is the Harmony V, a mini cruise ship of the Greek Variety Cruises (26 outside cabins, 49 passengers) moored on a buoy. In the afternoon, the Celestyal Olympia of the Cypriot shipping company Celestyal will be added as the fourth ship. About 3.000 passengers visit the island this Sunday. For Santorini this is a relaxed day. Before that, the main island of Thira saw significantly more day visitors from cruise ships. Since 2016 there has been a limit to a maximum of 8.000 passengers per day.
Fira - houses next to the valley station of the cable car
Celestyal Nefeli in front of Fira
Thira - our first visit by cruise ship
We visit Thira, the main island of the archipelago, again. Before that we came by plane and ferry. Today we travel for the first time with a cruise ship and enjoy the spectacular view of the cliffs in the west of the island, the island capital Fira, which is more than 200 meters above sea level, and Oia, which is several kilometers away as the crow flies.
Santorini - Fira above the caldera
Priority when disembarking is given to those passengers who have booked organized tours. You will be taken to the ferry port of Athiniós south of Fira in the comfortable boats of the Santorini Boatmen Union. This port is accessible to tour buses. And buses are used for tours across the 79 square kilometer island.
Santorini - tender boat takes over passengers
Tender boat in the caldera of Santorini
We prefer individual excursions and take one of the tender boats over to the nearby “old” port of Skala. Our daily destinations are the main town Fira and Oia, which is twelve kilometers away. We don’t waste a thought on climbing almost 600 steps or riding a donkey or mule (costs 5 euros). Instead, we take the Doppelmayr cable car. At regular intervals, several gondolas linked one behind the other go up to the mountain station at a height of 260 meters. The journey time is little more than three minutes and also costs 5 euros. The initiator of the cable car was the Greek shipowner Nomikos, a patron of the island. He had the railway built in 1979. He later donated them to the 14 parishes of Santorini.
Fira - mountain station of the cable car
In Fira everything is as usual. Everything is in its place. There is no reason to stay there for long. It's too early in the day to eat or drink. So we walk over to the main street, pass the car rental offices and reach the bus station on Dekigala Street. A modern bus will soon be leaving for Oia. We'll take it. By the way: We buy the tickets on the bus.
On the way in the center of Fira
At the Fira bus station
Visit to Oia
We are less familiar with Oia than we are with Fira. Arrived at our destination, we let ourselves drift haphazardly through the alleys and the stairways of the small town. We see the no longer active, decorative windmills and the Venetian fortress of Argyri. We look at the houses built into the rock of the originally poor population and the massive stone houses of the wealthy shipowners and their captains. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Oias shipowners and captains owned 130 sailing ships with which there was brisk trade as far as the Black Sea.
We see the donkeys and mules being herded down to one of the two ports in the village. The way is shorter than in Fira. Still, we regret the fate of these animals. We save ourselves the way down.
Oia - donkeys and mules in waiting position
Instead, the time has come to have a refreshing drink on a secluded café terrace. The performance is mediocre; the service careless. We are in Santorini! Santorini's restaurateurs seem to internalize that the guests are willing to accept inferior quality. Many of the strangers, at least those who came by cruise ship, stay on the island for a few hours. Why make an effort?
We look into the shops. A lot of handicrafts are offered in Oia, among which we discover tasteful work. There is also no shortage of simple souvenirs and clothing. We have enough and go back to the bus station, wait a quarter of an hour and get on the bus to Fira. Under https://www.ktel-santorini.gr/ the bus schedule can be viewed beforehand. A single ticket for adults costs 1,80 euros. Children and students pay less.
The coastal path above the caldera
At the height of the village of Firostefani we leave the bus and follow the path along the caldera. The promenade connects Fira with Oia. We enjoy fantastic views of the caldera and the cruise ships. We see the built-up slopes, the terraces, the small gardens with the bougainvillea plants, pools and much more. The way seems picturesque to us. The Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist is on the way, and we take time to tour the small church.
We admit, had we not seen much of Thira and the rest of the archipelago before, our stay on the island would have been different. We would have rented a car and visited the countryside, the small towns and the beaches.
Fira - tender boat in the port of Skala
None of this is necessary. We say goodbye to the hustle and bustle in Fira, take the next cable car and look for shelter on the shady terrace of a pub at the port of Skala. The white wine is well chilled there and the service of the waitresses is just right.
Santorini is a wonderful destination. We promise we'll be back.