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Mike's Odyssey to Greece - 2005

Part 14: Flight to Santorini

Over the Orthodox Easter weekend (and yes, they celebrate it on a different date than most of us in the west do), Athens shuts down.  It's very bizarre; Athens - which is nothing but solid traffic 24/7 - has nothing but empty streets beginning on Friday morning through the following Monday night.

The Greek Easter is much like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one.  Everyone goes home to their villages and families gather together.  Oh, and it is also like the 4th of July, as they shoot off fireworks to announce Christ's resurrection.  But more on that later.  Suffice to say that Easter is THE holiday in Greece.

That being said, it was going to be slow working, as none of the Greeks would be available to support us.  So, faced with the long weekend with no work to do, I decided to fulfill a dream and visit the island of Santorini, (or should I say "Thira"?).

Many people want to visit the island of Santorini because of its picturesque setting - beautiful white villages perched high on a cliff on the edge of a volcano underneath beautiful sunsets.  And yes, that was a small part of the appeal.  But rather, I wanted to visit Santorini because I had seen it on the Discovery Channel.

Thira (as the island is officially called but no one on the the island seems to know that) was an ancient Greek port city that sided with Sparta in the Peloponnesian wars.  But before that - actually LONG before that - the island was called Strongili, which was translated into "round."  The island was nice big round island and in the center of it was a big, tall mountain.  And then, some time around 3,600 years ago, the mountain exploded, turning Strongili into several islands, the two largest of which were Thira and Thirassia.  At some point, crusading knights from Italy set up a church devoted to Saint Irene, and the island took on the name "Santorini."  The Greek government, however, continues to embrace the traditional name of Thira, even though anyone I met on the island seemed to not know this fact; as an example, I told a restaurant owner "I love it here on Thira!" to which he replied, "No, this is Santorini!"

Anyway, I purchased a last minute ticket on Olympic Airways.  Flying to Santorini isn't as glamorous as taking a cruise ship to the island, but for me time was of the essence, as I could not spend 9 hours on a cruise ship; I only had about 48 hours to visit the island.  And, it turns out that the snobby woman on our flight who didn't want to fly on a puddle jumper likewise felt it wasn't glamorous; she refused to fly on it, prompting the air crew to remove her baggage and costing us almost an hour on the ground.

But, soon, we were airborne over the beautiful Aegean waters at sunset as we crossed several islands on our way to Santorini.  Or is it Thira?

Flight stub
My flight ticket stub.  Note that it reads "Thira" instead of "Santorini".

Athens airport
An airplane geek like me couldn't resist the opportunity to snap a picture of the Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport.

The ATR-42 we took out to Santorini, err, Thira.

Aerial shot
Take-off at dawn with the Athens International Airport below.

Aerial view of sea
The seaside town of Loutsa.  Note now blue the Aegean is!

An unidentified island.  Kythnos, perhaps?

Another island.  I think it is Serifos.

The pilot said this island was Milos, but I think it is Sifnos.  Milos is likely the one in the background at the top of the picture.

A Greek island village from the air.  The white buildings really stand out from the surrounding countryside.

Another island.  I don't know which one it is.  It might be Ios.

Sunrise over some random island.  There's just too many to keep track of them all...

We flew over one of the high-speed ferries on its way out to an island.

Finally, we approached Santorini.  This is the smaller island of Thirassia, which became separated from the main island following an earthquake in 236 BC.

The village of Ia.  Thirassia appears in the upper right, while the lava domes of Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni appear in the upper left.

Fira from air
Fira from the air.  Fira is actually the largest city on the island of Santorini.  (It used to be Ia until an earthquake in 1956 leveled most of that city.)

Happy Easter
Olympic Airways wished me a Happy Easter (Kalo Paska), which I would have on the most beautiful island in the world!

Continue on to Part 15:  Exploring Empty Fira (or "How to kill time waiting for the natives to wake up")