Mediterranean Cruise — Thera (Santorini)

Iten Thera

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The Costa Concordia wreck changed things. Now muster drills must be completed on the first sailing day, and with late departures, that means the first evening. Although it is comfortable to blame it on the wreck, one can easily ask why hasn’t it always been that way? As usual, the Star Clipper crew directed the drills professionally, and as usual, several passengers intentionally or cluelessly skipped the drill. We left port with “1492 — The Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis ringing through the rigging, a feature of the cruise line. It is stirring music even though it is a dirge. We hit the rack early as we were still jet lagged, and the massive chunks of Thera were the first thing we saw the next morning.

Thera is the blasted remains of a shield cone volcano that relegates Mt. St. Helens to the little league. We know it wiped out the locals, and it is generally accepted that it (and its tsunami) wiped out the critical mass of the Minoan culture. Other cultural impacts have been inferred from the archeological record in the Eastern Med.

Life here clings to the ridge line of the largest remaining part of the volcano. In the center of the caldera a new volcano has climbed from the ocean floor. Some outer islands have isolated villages.

We opted to tour the Bronze Age ruins at Akrotiri and the villages of Fira and Oia.

Akrotiri is an assigned name, as the original is lost to antiquity. It was abandoned before the volcanic cataclysm 3600 years ago — not a hint of the occupants remains except for a house charm, a golden ibex. The dig shows at least four prior layers. The top layer has homes of three and four stories. Upper stories in the homes have flush (sluice) toilets. Some feel that this and other aspects of modernity may have been seeds for the Atlantis myth. Millennia under the soil have leached the colors from the stone constructions, but the modern site buildings have been built to represent the vibrant colors we might have seen when the city was 500 feet lower and an active port city.

The drive to Oia (they pronounce it “eeyah”) was along the eastern side of the old lava shield. Here we found the blue domes and white buildings the island is known for with far less of the stone-tones of Athens, but the shock of wall-to-wall tourists was unwelcome. Most of the gift shops sold identical merchandise and quite a few of the vendors were from the northern Adriatic. As long as we kept our eyes and camera lens focused outwards we could imagine a quieter place.

The trip from Oia to Fira was along the slopes away from the caldera, and again the deja vu set in. Fira was calmer but also one big shop. The trip down was via a cable car which took two minutes. We understand it was very much preferable to the donkeys the place is known for. Apparently they stink and are aggressive, often rubbing their riders against the wall as they seek the least energy path down (and up).

Here we came ashore and returned via union-operated tenders from Thera, something we would see again in Sicily.

Please enjoy the photos. Click on first one to scroll.

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