Wednesday 12 September 2012

On the terrace

I don't usually feature hotels in my blog, but Hotel Kalalari is part of the experience of Santorini for me, as it was staying there that helped us avoid the huge crowds and afforded us the best views of the caldera, the volcano and the famous Santorini sunsets.

The caldera, midday, when the sun is mercilessly beating down

One of the architectural features of Santorini are its caves. As I mentioned in a previous post, the houses are built on the steep hill of the caldera affording fantastic views - some of the rooms are carved inside excavated volcanic rock, a perfect adaptation to the region's natural environment, keeping a stable temperature throughout the year.

Our hotel room was one of those. The door led straight out on to the terrace so that as you opened it you were facing the view of the previous photograph. The archway in the picture led to a small sitting area and another niche carved into the rock which was a desk area. The blue appliance you see in the picture is the de-humidifier: the room was quite damp despite the high temperatures and the two windows that we kept constantly open.

you get a feel of the cave like environment in this photograph.

the seating area. Our room was very cosy and made us feel that we were troglydytes for a few days

even the area for the sink in the bathroom has been excavated into the rock

detail from inside our little cave.

The hotel was originally a captain's house but then more and more levels were added on - it must be at least 7 stories high now, accesible by the stairs that lead from one terrace to another, and no lift. To get to the main road from our room we had to climb up three flights of stairs

and to get to the breakfast area (seen in this photograph) you had to go down another two flights of stairs. Threre are at least another two levels below that, but I did not venture that far down. There is therefore a lot of climbing to be done, but that is the case with all of Santorini.

Santorini is famous for its sunsets. The sunset is the event of the day, every day, and people will assemble on terraces, on the paths that face the caldera, on roofs to admire the setting of the sun.

We, however, had our terrace. Not only did we sit on the terrace for quite a while after breakfast, but we also came out of our room with a glass (or two, or three) of wine at around 7:15 early evening, and sat there looking at the activity in the caldera until about 9:00 when we would venture out, ready to brave the crowds.

Santorini is very expensive, particularly the bars and restaurants that look out on to the caldera - because of the high turnover of tourists due to the cruise ships, the service is also not very good. Having access to a terrace in our hotel saved us a lot of money that we would have spent on drinks in bars as well as giving us infinite pleasure.

Furthermore, even though the terrace on our floor was communal, for a reason that I cannot fathom, with the exception of one evening, we were the only people using it, so it was very relaxing and peaceful.

As I said earlier, eating in Santorini is expensive but we were lucky because the receptionist at our hotel gave us a list of tavernas that were reasonably priced with excellent food - Capari was particularly good, with tasty food, fantastic atmosphere and extremely helpful staff: it was always packed.

We stayed in Phera, but Oia, Phirostephani and Merovigli have equally good views of the caldera as well as numerous hotels perched on the cliffs, so my advice would be to stay in one of those if one can afford it. It means that you don't have to go to the expensive bars and eateries that look on to the caldera and it is the best way to avoid the crowds.

I have explained before how I feel about Santorini. When I am there, all I want to do is look at the caldera, whether sitting on that terrace, or walking. I feel a peace, a oneness that is very rare and which at times I have likened to the closest I have ever come to a religious experience. I feel it is something to do with the energy generated from the volcano and I have had conversations with people about this. Some people say that the only other place they felt like that was in Iceland - another volcanic landscape.  I also know that some people feel uneasy, uncomfortable and even frightened in Santorini - again, feelings that are generated by the volcano.

I think that you either hate Santorini or you love it - and I am entranced by it. I had all those feelings five years ago when I went for the first time, and was curious to see if I would feel the same the second time - and I did, and what I am left with is the feeling that I can't wait to get back there, for longer this time.

A view of the settlement in Therasia, the island across the caldera, which would have been part of Santorini before the eruption (I had to zoom to get this).

All the photographs in this post are the views from the terrace in our hotel. This is another one at midday when the sun is beating down, so mercilessly, that the water has turned silver

and this is as the sun is about to set


almost gone

gone, but I still couldn't tear myself away

this is about the only time that these monsters look barely acceptable

and here

are and now it's dark and all the lights in Phera are twinkling, as are the lights across the caldera on top of Therasia and I wish my camera took better night time photos.

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Three days ago a friend sent me an article about a huge balloon of magma about 15 times the size of London's Olympic Stadium that is growing beneath the island and which has forced the island up by 14 cm. The chamber of superheated rock has expanded from 10 to 20 million cubic metres in 15 months and has triggered a series of small earthquakes. There have been further reports about this in the papers and this would explain why we did not see any guided tours walking up to the volcano this time.

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