Note: No pictures until we get somewhere with good internet.
We flew from Dubrovnik to Santorini, connecting in Athens, making Santorini our first Greek stop. The difference in service cultures could not have been more stark. People in Croatia were generally nice, but you always had to work to get past the gruff or reserved exterior and still generally felt like people didn't really want to talk. Waiters at restaurants almost all gave the impression that they were too busy to answer questions about the menu. Croatians weren't rude (at least not usually), but they definitely weren't nice either. Greece, on the other hand, was typically like being greeted by that friend from high school you once partied with but haven't seen in 20 years. That was true for the cab driver, the waitstaff at restaurants, the hotel staff, and pretty much everyone else. And they were generous in their attitudes as well: when we remarked to one cabbie about the difference between Croatia and Greece he was quick to point out the Balkan War and the fact that Croatia is still an up and coming destination and he was sure they would get it figured out.
We designed our Greece itinerary to be heavy on history and light on islands, thinking we would be islanded-out after Croatia. However, we couldn't visit Greece without seeing at least one of the famous islands, so we squeezed in a couple of nights on Santorini since it was easy to fly in and out of. We flew in late one evening and stayed two nights, unfortunately giving us just one of the fabled Santorini sunsets. I have to admit, though, that after 4 incredible Dubrovnik sunsets I was ok just getting the one in Santorini. Our hotel was in Fira, the most central of the towns on the island but not the one with the white walls and blue domes that you think of when you think of the island. That is Oia, a 5 mile hike along the cliffs from Fira, which is how we spent 3 hours of our only full day there. Walter was a real trooper for most of the hike, especially considering it is mostly uphill coming out of Fira. About 2/3 of the way through, though, we hit one final uphill slog and so he piggy-backed it and I got my workout for the day. Oia itself was a little disappointing, but it was the only thing standing between us and our hotel pool on a sunny day after a long hike, so I think we were a little biased.
We had a fantastic seafood dinner that night at a restaurant close to our hotel that overlooks the cable car and donkey trail that comes up the cliffs. We got a giant seafood platter to share and a half liter of house wine. However, we were actually served (and charged for) a full liter of wine, which was hard to tell as it was served in an opaque clay carafe. Well into our dinner and not realizing the mixup, I became convinced that we had been given a never-ending carafe of wine and was determined to steal it. Alas, it was not to be, and ran out after more than a few too many glasses.
On our second and last morning in Santorini we went to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, which turned out to be far more interesting than I ever would have thought. The museum consists of artifacts from the Minoan city that existed on the island prior to the massive volcanic eruption that shaped the island in ~1600 BC. In fact, it seems that the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami may have been what led to the fall of the Minoans. It was remarkable to see the pots, plates, jars, and other artifacts that date from 3500-5000 years ago. And they were traders, so their boats explored the surrounding areas like Syria and Egypt. Again, 4000 years ago! The design of the ceramic bowls and jars was amazing. Their homes were decorated with beautiful murals depicting scenes from far off places. It got Jie and me talking about how advanced this civilization was that long ago, and how little we advanced between that time and the steam engine. Very cool experience, and foreshadowing of things to come in our visit to the mainland.