There’s no denying that sailing into Santorini is one of the most spectacular experiences in cruising. Sailing into that awesome caldera, enclosed by sheer cliffs of striped volcanic rock and approaching its whitewashed towns clinging to the clifftops, has got to be the definition of scenic.
And, what made our visit even better today was that we were one of only 2 cruise ships in town – as opposed to the 7 monster ships that can sometimes be anchored in the caldera, disgorging up to 18,000 people into Fira’s tiny alleyways (a time when social distancing was impossible). Today, there couldn’t have been more than 500 cruise passengers, yet the narrow streets were still pretty busy, as crowds of people browsed the shops that were almost exclusively jewellery stores, fashion boutiques, or souvenir shops. When an island’s economy is as focused on tourism as this, the pandemic must have hit it hard.
However, as we huffed and puffed our way up and down the 600 steps to Fira and back, we noticed that the donkeys seemed to be looking much more healthy than they used to. Their one-year sabbatical from carrying cruise passengers around seems to have done them some good, even if it was bad news for their owners.
Actually, rather than cruisers, the majority of the tourists up in Fira appeared to be “beautiful young things” (the cruise community tends to consist of “beautiful mature things”), whose chief activity seemed to be taking selfies – making themselves the star attraction rather than the scenery that they’ve paid so much to see. In fact, Santorini seems to be made for the Instagram Age – to me, its restaurant, bar and retail scene seems to be all about style; being seen rather than seeing; consuming as conspicuously as possible. Maybe I’m just turning into a grumpy old man, but I find that the other islands offer a more genuine atmosphere that’s more to my taste.
But, in spite of all this, Santorini is hard not to like – nowhere can offer a more photogenic background to tourist mayhem, donkey droppings and endless selfies. I must stop being grumpy and just enjoy the ravishing views.