Waking early in the morning, this is what I saw from bed. The Corinthian II had pulled into the Santorini harbor so close that we could have easily swam to shore. Looking vertically up the switch-back walkway and the gondola, we could see the sun peeking over the roofs of the iconic white houses of Fira on the hilltop.
We had docked at a small landing in the middle of the crescent which is Santorini Island. Originally called Thera, it was given the name Santorini by the Venetians who derived the name from Saint Irene.
Larger ships were not able to dock as close as the Corinthian II
The entire middle of the once circular and conical island exploded and sank into the ocean in the year 1623 B.C. The explosion not only obliterated everything on the island but was heard as far away as the Straits of Glbralter, and its ill effects were likely cause of the destruction of the aforementioned Palace of Knossos in Crete. So our port, before that time, would have been under many thousands of feet of rock.
Breakfast on board within swimming distance of shore
We were ferried a short distance to another location with switchbacks for buses as opposed to donkeys (where we had docked). The bus ride up the hill was dramatic, and when we reached the ridge, we found ourselves suddenly in the thriving tourist town of Thira.
After dropping the instruments in town near our concert venue, we continued on the bus to the town of Oia on the northern tip of the island. The journey was among the most scenic we had ever taken.
Driving at some points on narrow ridges that divide the island’s flat lands from the steep drop to the massive caldera, one can easily see the many layers of volcanic deposit in the hillsides. The explosion of Thera has been linked, speculatively, to historical legends such as the disappearance of Atlanta (thought to be at the caldera’s bottom), and the biblical plagues.
Seen from one of many incredible scenic viewing locations in Oia, the beautiful neighboring islands dot the horizon. It is mind-boggling to realize, though, that where you are standing and these islands were once the same land mass before being separated by the gigantic explosion.
The town of Oia is too picturesque for words, a photographer’s paradise. Please click on the link at the conclusion of this post for many more photos.
We have never been jewelry enthusiasts until we came to Greece. The modern artisans must have the ancient creativity and skill in their blood.
Reluctantly boarding the bus, we were transported to a magical lunch in an open-air restaurant overlooking the island’s east coast, the airport, and the famous black sand beaches.
The food was fantastic.
Deep fried eggplant
Our performance that afternoon took place in the Thera Conference Center of the Petros M. Nomikos Foundation, a marvelous place perched at the very top of the hill in Fira. The foundation “is dedicated to realizing and promoting social, cultural and scientific events to support the island of Santorini and the excavations of Akrotiri” and hosts conferences with participants staying in charming cottages attached to the center. The main room, with air conditioning and wonderful acoustics, overlooks the harbor where our ship was docked.
Both Wu Han and I introduced the final program of our tour, which included Beethoven’s 1st sonata for piano and cello in F, and the massive Brahms g minor piano quartet.
Our professional obligations completed, the musicians could finally relax completely.
Descending from the foundation towards the top of the cable car (which would take us directly to the harbor) we were amazed by the view of the Corinthian II from almost directly above it.
The descent via cable car was dramatic. The other way down was either on the back of a donkey, or on foot along the same donkey trail. One has to watch where one steps. I believe Arnaud walked down but didn’t have much to say about it.
The donkey trail, the cable car, and the Corinthian II
Returning to the ship via tender…
…everyone relaxed and refreshed in their cabins, and Arnaud joined us on our balcony for a celebratory glass of champagne as the ship pulled away.
The departure from Santorini at sunset afforded stunning views in all directions, looking back towards the sun-drenched cliffs, and forward into the darkening Aegean.
The final evening, filled with mixed emotions, was celebratory. We thanked and bid our guides, tour directors, and the captain and his crew farewell, but not before they had led us on a magical remembrance of where we had been, and what we seen and learned.
Captain Thomsen (right) greeted every passenger at the final reception
Kathleen Lynch, our resident lecturer from the University of Cincinnati, provided us with one more enlightening talk that summarized the entire experience. Always available, effervescent and brilliant, Kathleen taught us more in a week than I ever thought possible to learn, and we owe her much gratitude.
As the ship sailed over a moonlit sea towards Piraeus, we enjoyed for a last time the Corinthian II’s luxurious facilities, such as the well-stocked library, and well-stocked bar.
I would be remiss to close without a couple of acknowledgments, first, to the expert cruise organizers at Travel Dynamics International who put together what seemed a flawless week, in which every detail had been thought out and executed with elegance and grace. To our partners, Smithsonian Journeys and the Archaeological Institute of America, we thank you on behalf of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for your participation, your friendship, and for the inspiring energy, curiousity and attentive listening that your attendees brought to the experience. To all those who joined us through CMS, what a pleasure it was to spend such quality time together outside the concert hall, all of us learning new things in common amazement.
Wu Han and I would also like to thank our indefatigable musical partners Philip Setzer and Arnaud Sussmann, who missed nothing during the entire week, not even a couple of notes. It was a special pleasure to make music together under such extraordinary circumstances.
As the Corinthian II pulled into the harbor at Piraeus, the Athenian fisherman were already at work. We look forward to seeing them soon again. Stay tuned, through the Chamber Music Society, for news of our next musical adventure on the high seas.
For more photos of Santorini and the journey’s conclusion on our Flickr page, click here.