My happy place...

What with all the inclement weather we've been having of late (Snow! In November? Apparently so!), I've found myself daydreaming about warmer climes. My favourite mental holiday destination just so happened to be my actual holiday destination this year - the tiny and beautiful Greek island of Santorini.
Never heard of it? Most people haven't it seems! Let me help you out - it's 
Famous for their blue domed churches and sparse, striking landscape, the islands that make up Santorini are all that remains after the volcano which once made up one large island blew its top about 3,600 years ago. Interestingly, many people think this is where the legend of Atlantis, the undersea civilisation that fell into the ocean came from - kind of cool to think that might be true! What remains is a massive crater and the towns of Thira and Oia cling to the caldera.

Most visitors arrive by sea, and if you don't fancy the steep walk up the cliff face (or if cable cars give you the heebie-jeebies) the best way up is by donkey! And there's certainly a wide variety of steeds to choose from - infact I'm willing to bet that off-season there are more donkeys than people on the tiny island!
The donkeys, it seems, are a bit of a national obsession. All over the island there are lifesize plastic donkeys painted with various patterns and outfits - absolutely bizarre! This camp gent particularly tickled me...

The other national obsession is the sunset - tourist agencies even run trips which take visitors to see the sunset in the tiny town of Oia, the northernmost town of the island, with undoubtedly the most beautiful views. Though normally I shy away from tourist events like this, I couldn't resist seeing this sunset for myself, and I have to admit, it was stunning. And the cocktails that accompanied it were the icing on the cake!

Even so, watching the local businesses try to compete and cash in on it was pretty funny!

Other than the sunset, the main thing that brings people to the island is wine. Due to the dry, volcanic rock that makes up the soil, very little grows on Santorini - other than grapes. Literally everywhere you step there are little clusters of grapevines (wound up like baskets to protect the precious fruit from the harsh autumn winds). Obviously keen to immerse ourselves in the local culture, J and I nobly took ourselves off to the Koutsoyannopoulous Winery. The cool darkness of the wine cellars provided a welcome break from the intense afternoon sunshine and wine tasting at the end of the tour was the perfect thing for a Sunday afternoon - we even treated ourselves to a bottle of their speciality Vin Santo - Kamaritis. So tasty and incredibly strong!

Not every outing was as classy as this mind you. J and I are huge fans of street food in all of its forms, and being a veteran of Greek holidays, J knew exactly what to go for. Gyros. The picture says it all. Flatbread. Roast meat. 3 kinds of dressings. 2 happy customers! We ate these nearly every day!

If you ever find yourself in Santorini, there are so many things to do - climb the mountain and visit the ancient settlement, swim in the hot springs, visit the black and red beaches, take a glass bottom boat around the reefs - that the one thing that left the biggest impression on me could seem understated by comparison.

The day before we left the island, we visited the Museum of Prehistoric Thira and it was here we saw the monkeys. I had read about them in the guidebooks and could not wait to see them - I was not disappointed.

When excavating an Minoan settlement on the south of the island, years ago, archaeologists unearthed a series of incredible painted murals depicting life on the island. The most unusual of these are the monkeys. Huge and, oddly, blue, nobody quite knows why they featured so prominently on the walls of the site. They sit pride of place at the end of the museum, acting as a sort of grand finale - and the staff are very keen to keep it that way, I was reprimanded for going the wrong way through to building to see them first!

A bit of escapism goes a long way on a cold winter evening, doesn't it?

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