FIRA, Santorini - Let's dispense first with the bad news. The roller bag carrying all of my clothing and other items was stolen on the ferry from Crete to Santorini.
It's been a bitter experience, but it will not ruin my four-month adventure in Europe. Passengers on the ferry were required to put large bags on a rack because the seating area is very tight and there are no overhead racks. There was no tagging or checking of bags. When I departed the ferry with hundreds of other passengers, my bag was gone from the rack. The SeaJets staff could not have been less helpful or sympathetic. But enough whining from an otherwise happy and fortunate traveler.
I have been reading a travel memoir by Martha Gellhorn, a World War II correspondent. Her book, written in 1978 and subtitled, "Five Journeys from Hell," has been a useful companion on my trip. An early passage resonates: "I don't care where we go," she wrote. "It is all new, I want to see it all."
Before leaving Crete I had taken the recommendations from a couple of friends to visit specific sites. Former Binghamton, New York co-worker Diana Bean urged me to take the 13 kilometer hike down to the Samaria Gorge. Sadly, I arrived too late in the day to do the whole hike and had to settle for a four kilometer descent instead. No matter. The sights were incredible and I met a friendly Lebanese Christian (also retired), who regaled me with tales of European history on the climb back to the top.
Jessie Shaw, one of my unofficial tour advisers, recommended I visit the ancient ruins of Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and said to be Europe's oldest city. When I view or read about ancient ruins, I'm always struck by what was accomplished without today's heavy equipment and techniques for building huge structures of heavy stone.
I departed Crete Monday morning on the aforementioned ferrry to Santorini, a two-hour trip. I took a shuttle bus from the seaport up to the village of Fira and walked only a few blocks to my new home, the Hotel Santorini. One of the things a traveler does not want to hear at check-in is a warning from the clerk: "The tap water is not drinkable. Here's a free bottle of water."
Tuesday was another day of archaeological wonders as I toured Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement carefully preserved and enclosed under a modern and massive roof and walls. I learned quickly that the bus system on Santorini is excellent. The buses are large, clean and timely. Best of all, a round trip to any one of the major island areas and beaches is 3.6 Euros. What a deal.
At the urging of one of my unofficial tour planners, I took the bus to Oia, an absolutely gorgeous village in the South Aegean. The landscape from on high is stunning, which I've found to be the case practically anywhere I've gone on Crete or Santorini. But Oia's special draw for me was the Atlantis bookstore, which my pal waxed poetic about. I was not disappointed. I'm traveling light, but I easily could have filled my backpack with books about the islands, Greek history and an impressive collection of classics. All in English.
So, the next stop is Athens. I will arrive on Friday for a three-day visit. I'm thinking I haven't seen nothing yet in the archaeology department.
As I strolled down one of Fira's hilly, cobblestone streets to my hotel on Wednesday evening, a runaway orange rolled past me on the street. It was my breakfast on Thursday.