Sheer beauty of Greek isle

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

November 21, 1999

A MEMORABLE PLACE

By Mary Jane Mitchell

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

From all reports, the highlight of our Mediterranean cruise would be its stop in Santorini, the ship's first port of call in the Greek isles. We were scheduled to sail into its dramatic caldera, a harbor formed by a volcanic explosion, at night. The captain had strongly encouraged everyone to be on deck for this not-to-be-missed experience, and most of the ship's 800 passengers were there.

Standing on the bow of the ship with millions of glittering stars in the velvet blackness above us, we were astonished by the clarity of the heavens. Silently as a wraith our ship slipped between the outreaching arms of the caldera and glided past the glowing lights of towns and villages that dotted the surrounding hillsides. Crew members dropped anchor, and we sleepily made our way back to our staterooms.

At dawn, a glorious vista spread before us. Santorini earns its reputation for drama with soaring cliffs topped by dazzling white buildings and all surrounded by water the color of crayons children use when drawing the sea. We were taken ashore, where we boarded buses.

Our first stop was Akrotiri, a superb archaeological dig in progress, where one steps back into antiquity, tiptoeing through narrow cobblestone walkways and peering into well-appointed and painstakingly restored dwellings. The sight of this ancient city, being slowly reconstructed to its original splendor, was astonishing.

Moments later, we were enchanted by a winery built into the side of a lofty bluff where grapes, poured into openings at the top, make their way into holding tanks within the cavernous interior. The wine is piped to the docks below. Steps carved into the side of the precipice meander down to a patio for our wine tasting, a mellow experience at 10:30 in the morning.

Later in the day we visited Oia, a village perched so high above the caldera that it almost seems connected to the sky. Each corner we turned revealed a vista more beautiful than the previous. The clicking of cameras could be heard all over the tiny town. Charming cottages and appealing specialty shops, interspersed with tiny chapels and cozy cafes, tempted us to jump ship and take up residence.

To reach the dock far below we could choose a donkey ride, cable car or a long, winding stairway. We rode the cable car, and still relish the memory of our brief suspended journey down Santorini's sheer cliffs. Perhaps next time we'll try the donkeys.

Mary Jane Mitchell lives in Ellicott City.

MY BEST SHOT

Day's end in Ireland

Helen Haynie, Baltimore

This picture was taken on a recent trip to Ireland. It's from a farm in County Galway near the town of Clifden on the west coast of Ireland. I was fortunate enough to witness a sunset overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The countryside all over Ireland is this beautiful.

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