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Photo: A steep look down at the harbor of Santorini, Greece

CRUISING THE GREEK ISLANDS

When most people tell you they have visited Greece, they usually mean Athens, the capitol. While Athens is a travelers' treasure trove of antiquity, it is, like most other large cities, congested, crowded, and polluted.

When you get outside the cities on a cruise, however, beautiful towns appear on the horizon which, upon close inspection, reveal achingly lovely villages. There are over 6000 islands, but less than 80 of these have a population more than 100. There is a most inclusive site you might want to visit if you are interested

Santorini sits on the top of a volcano-mountain. To reach it from the harbor, you either walk up a gazillion switchback stairs, or take the cable cars, six of which can be seen in the lower left corner of the picture above.

There was some question as to whether Nancy could get off the ship as the water was quite choppy this day. There was also a question whether she could get her Dune Buggy wheelchair into the cable cars. Everyone agreed I should go first and test to see what was possible on our end.

left the ship in a small tender, got off at the dock, and took the chair to the cable car entrance, walking in front of perhaps 1000 people waiting in line. I found someone familiar with the operation who showed me an elevator they had recently installed to get a disabled person up to the cable car landing. We took the chair up and tried it out. No problem so far.

I locked the chair at that level in a small store room, then went back to the ship for Nancy. We had also brought with us a small travel wheelchair and I intended to use it to get her to the cable cars.

Alas, the water got choppier, and the captain refused to let her leave. I, however, had to go back and retrieve the Dune Buggy. I figured as long as I was there, I might as well take a few minutes to see the town. I hurried along, not wanting to leave Nancy alone for too long on the ship.

There is a paved path all along the top edge of the mountain. I walked through the streets of town to the top, then came back down along that path. A young newlywed couple asked me to take their picture, quite pleased that I framed it nicely for them before snapping it. They returned the favor, taking this photo of me.

Along the walkway, Santorini, Greece

All the houses and churches are visible above or below the walkway, and they are appealing to the point you would sell your soul to own one and live in this gorgeous place. Your soul is about what it would cost, too. Take this villa, for example:

Santorini villa. 7.5 million buys this beauty. Not too wheelchair friendly, however

The strength of the European Union has increased prices for everything in all the member countries, but the real estate in these delightful mountain villages has always been among the highest in the world. Don't come to this part of the world looking for 'buying and flipping" property. That ship has sailed.

Question From the E-mailbag:

Hi,
I have serious knee problems in both legs and was operated. I can walk, even uphill or downhill, but I cannot climb or descend stairs at all.

My wife and I travel all over the world. Do you know if Santorini and other Greek islands are fit for disabled people like me - in other words, can I get to most places without climbing steps?

The short answer to the writer above- and anyone with "additional needs" is that you will find the terrain most unfriendly, and you must assume you will encounter stairs everywhere throughout the Greek Islands. Even where there are not stairs, the inclines can be quite steep to the point you wish there were stairs.

The day our cruise ship was at Santorini, the water was too rough and the captain would not let Nancy off the ship because we were tendered out in the harbor, not docked. Anyone with limited mobility would have some difficulty. Anyone in a wheelchair would have to be carried on and off the tender. They are willing to carry you, but it is scary.

I went ashore to take pictures and soon realized I would have had too much trouble, even with our dune buggy powered wheelchair, because of a number of ill-placed stairs and the steep paths around the towns.

Right off, there is a fairly challenging flight of stairs just as you leave the cable car that brings you up the mountainside crest from the sea below. Were Nancy with me, I would have had to pay a few people to carry her up the stairs in the wheelchair. In this part of the world, given a challenging economy, expect to pay for help. And this is not China. It will cost considerably more to hire the people you need.

The delightful blue white church you see featured in all the posters of Santorini has a number of steps down from the path that circles the village. If you truly cannot do stairs, you could not get into the church. There is enough to see so that would not be a "deal-breaker", but it represents an example of the compromises you will be forced to make.

We might suggest you purchase a DRIVE travel wheelchair and bring it along for just such situations- so you could transfer to the chair for short stretches and walk the remainder. We purchased the Drive Expedition with 12 inch rear wheels. It is only 19 lbs., and quite rugged.

Plan to hire a couple of local kids and fiercely negotiate a price to have them accompany you, carrying you in the wheelchair when necessary, while you are exploring their village. You will find it rough going, but doable. Whether it is worth the cost or effort is something only you can determine. In my younger days, I would do it. Now, I would find it too taxing for me, though Nan would be fine.

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Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.