"I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love forever and ever." Psalm 52:8

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Santorini is a peaceful treasure in the middle of the Aegean Sea crafted from a violent and destructive force. What used to be a single island was the site one of the world's largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded in history. It literally is a volcano that blew its top. In fact, the eruption was so huge it created a giant tsunami of 150 meters high (almost 500 feet) that traveled south to Crete and significantly altered its landscape as well as contributed to the collapse of the Minoan civilization there. The volcano Thira (Santorini's original name) is now the site of a giant caldera, deep blue waters, white villages hugging the high steep cliffs, vineyards, scenic views, blue domed chapels and the most gorgeous sunsets in the world.
(Before you continue on, I encourage you to click on the photos to get the full view version which still doesn't even do it justice!)
Mel first experienced Santorini as a side trip when her friend, Gini from the States made a trek to Crete for a visit. The girls boarded a fast ferry and headed north. Sixty-eight miles and roughly an hour later they were in Santorini.

We stayed in the beautiful cliff side village of Oia (pron. ee-ah)

Besides the obvious sites of beauty over the sea we discovered some gorgeous flora in the village. This was one single bush. Just look at that color!

The fishing port of Ammoudi just under Oia on the cliffs was a great place to catch some local flavor.

This fella was one of many "town dogs". They seriously hang out wherever they want and are the well fed mascots of Santorini. They have little interest in tourists - only to find a quiet place to add to the scenery. All part of the Santorini experience. The Santorini dogs have a good life - they get fed very well, sleep all day and occasionally pose for the pesky tourists. What a life!

Mel had such a good (but short) time she decided to return in a couple of weeks with Richard in tow. We traveled on the ferry with some good friends and their boys.

From a distance, the white covered hills look like marshmellow villages melting over the cliffs.

We stayed in Oia at a nice little family run cliff hotel called Lauda. All the rooms were traditional cave houses each with a terrace overlooking the caldera. Beautiful, comfortable and surprisingly affordable! Our particular room was 96 steps down (and I think 596 UP!)

Our breakfast spot...

Our dinner spot...

One of our Santorini experiences was to go on a boat ride which offered great views of the island...
smooth sailing...
a swim from the boat to some natural hot springs...
a guided tour of the volcano...

and a docking at a neighboring port, Therisia, where we took in more views and a delicious Greek lunch by the water.

These boats looked like they were suspended in air.

Love the color!

Another fun side trip was to the little inland town of Exo Gonia where we toured the winery called Art Space. The owner is a Greek gentleman who has as much passion for art as for wine making. The winery that was originally built and operated by his grandfather used to be a tomato processing plant. It eventually was altered to include the wine making processes including large stone "rooms" used for everything from grape stomping to distilling raki. He now has a substantial collection of art from Greece as well as some German and English works displayed in the cave-like cisterns. He has preserved and updated one area of the winery to continue his family's tradition of making some of the best Santorini white wine available! We hauled back 6 bottles of his white reserve and his vin santo.
In Santorini, the grapes are grown close to the ground rather than on trellises. This is to maximize moisture containment in this extremely dry climate. The grapes are not irrigated. They are watered exclusively by the morning dew and very rare rain shower.
(For our "Winer's Group" here's a link about Santorini wine making:

Is that SNOW on them thar hills?!

One of the many gorgeous vistas was from the Monastery up on the highest point on the island. The village of Oia is at the end of the crescent in the picture.

Ancient Thira is the site of a large settlement that dates primarily back to the Hellenistic period but there are also extensive Roman and Byzantine remains. (800 BC - 800 AD)

There are many beaches on the other side of the island from the caldera. This one is called Black Beach for obvious reasons. There is also Red Beach and White Beach each with sand that represents the volcanic geology of that area.

We hiked up to the "Castelli" in a cute little village called Pirgos. Great views and fun locals.

This sweet old guy was making a living by posing with his donkey for photos. Just couldn't pass it up!
Speaking of donkeys, they are a Santorini icon. Originally used for transportation and farming they are now part of the tourist industry.
You can always hail a donkey taxi if you don't want to walk the, literally, HUNDREDS of steps up.

After all the cruise ships leave port in the afternoon, the village of Oia takes on a completely different feel. Quiet, peaceful, empty of crowds and beautiful night views.
Santorini is famous around the world for its sunsets especially in Oia. Crowds of people gather on the west side of town, sitting on every available stone wall to wait for the show. (If you look closely at this photo, you can see a bride and groom posing for their wedding shot.)
And what a show it is!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Battle of Crete

As May 20th approaches I thought it would be timely to post a blog focusing on the most significant event on Crete in modern history - the WW II Battle of Crete - Operation Mercury. Although this battle only technically lasted for 10 days, the losses were extraordinary on both sides. Because of its strategic position in the Mediterranean, Allied forces (mostly Brits and Aussies) held military strongholds to defend the island during the early days of the War. But on May 20th, the Germans launched an airborne invasion (the first in history) to occupy the island. The German invaders suffered unprecedented losses but over the next few days, gained the upper hand and moved through western Crete forcing the evacuation of many Allied troops. There are countless stories of bravery and resolve as hundreds of Allied soldiers painstakingly made their way through rocky, precipice gorges toward the south coast where they hoped for evacuation to Egypt. Many never made it - dying of hunger and exposure. But the ones that did were safe largely due to the fierce fighting of the Cretan soldiers and civilians that held off the German pursuit. It is said that the Germans were not prepared for the fight put up by the Cretans. The resolute and unexpected resistance of the defenders infuriated the Germans who resorted to brutal reprisals: mass executions, arson, and complete annihilation of entire villages who had given refuge to many of the fleeing soldiers. Almost every mountain village in the province of Chania has a story and a monument of rememberance. The bravery of the Cretan soldiers and civilians was forever etched in history.

These photos are taken at a private museum in the Askifou Plateau. This fascinating jumble of weapons, helmets, photos, letters, and other personal items were collected mostly in the immediate area over the years by Yiorgos Hatzidakis who witnessed the German invasion as a child. The museum housed in his private home is now painstakingly cared for by his family and has grown due to many items that have been donated over the years. It is an extraordinary tribute to the sacrifices of the soldiers on both sides.

After visiting the museum we made our way down through the Imbros Gorge to the south coast. This route has been used by shepherds over the centuries to move their flocks. Some things never change - and they STILL have the right of way!
Accompanying us were our first visitors from the States, Eric and Nick. They actually were studying abroad in England and used some of their spring break to come explore Crete. We enjoyed spending time with these two fine young men.
At the end of the Imbros gorge is the seaside village of Hora Sfakia.