Europe Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Recent Spam Attacks
    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 Trip Report Six Nights (and days) in the Marais
  2. 2 For a Taste of Four Cultures on Two Contınents
  3. 3 Trip Report From Portugal to the Pyrenees and onto Paris
  4. 4 Amsterdam and Germany 9 days
  5. 5 Mon Dieu! The Cops Are After Me
  6. 6 Boston to Le Marche - which airport?
  7. 7 Places to visit during a semester in Spain
  8. 8 Input desired concerning my Sicily itinerary
  9. 9 3 weeks in Italy - Family of 4
  10. 10 Ronda: cheap parking, where to find?
  11. 11 London: Flaming June and Pirates of Penzeance!
  12. 12 Amalfi Coast - help!
  13. 13 Germany train help!
  14. 14 Barcelona - How much Gaudi?
  15. 15 Ideas for small group tour - Southern Spain
  16. 16 Europe Travel & Trivia Quiz #138- Bridges, Tunnels!
  17. 17 Another tipping question: concierges
  18. 18 Input on Itinerary for Visit to Bavaria and Austria Fall 2017
  19. 19 12 Day Central Europe Itinerary
  20. 20 Interesting places to visit
  21. 21 Versailles tour with evening light show
  22. 22 Urgent- Pleaseee HELP - Spain, Italy or France for Xmass and New years
  23. 23 Paris + Amsterdam: where to stay
  24. 24 Acropolis Athens
  25. 25 Buying iDTGV tickets at a station
View next 25 » Back to the top

A GREECE TRAVELOGUE - Western Crete (Chania, The Samaria Gorge, Loutro) Folegandros and Santorini - PART 1

Jump to last reply

TRAVELS IN GREECE – PART 1

We travelled for two and a half weeks in Western Crete, (based in Chania and Loutro), Folegandros and Santorini in early May of this year and had an amazing trip. After our first vacation in 2005 when we fell in love with the Greek Islands we scrapped the idea of Italy for our next trip and decided to return to Greece. We want to go back again. Since we obtained so much great information from this Forum, I thought I’d contribute some travel reports.

To put us in context - we are David and Kathy, aged 48 and 47, hailing from Northern Ontario Canada. We are in good physical shape, interested in moderately adventurous, off-the-beaten-track travel, with some hiking, eating lots of good food and sipping great local wine, and splitting our time between attacking the popular tourist sites and wandering off to savour the local atmosphere. An entire afternoon at a Taverna by the seaside is as important as seeing the Acropolis and the local museum. We hate driving. Slow travel is our mantra. That’s us.

(A warning, the first part of this installment involves our tale of packing and travelling which you may find tedious or hopefully, mildly amusing.)


IN THIS INSTALLMENT we discover the following truths:

1. We are not the Smartest Bunnies In The Forest when it comes to packing for a three week trip to the Greek Islands.

2. Charles de Gaulle airport was designed by the same people that make the ingenious Roach Motel. You can check in, but whether or not you can then find your way out remains in the hands of a higher force.

3. The Greek Shrug is an art form which can, in a nano-second, convey an amazing variety of sentiments from “I’m so sorry you just severed your limb and urgently require medical attention but I’m having my coffee right now” to “I’m so sorry that you have 25 minutes to catch your Olympic Airlines Flight but this 1,000 strong snaking mob of people in front of you is the Greek way we do things – so get in line buddy and hope for the best”.

4. Greek food is most excellent and Greek wine is a “Good Thing”, (as Martha would say), and it is best to seek out the Tavernas where the local Greeks are eating and not the empty places with the glossy laminated pictures of “Greek Food for Dummies” located at the entrance.

5. Porto del Colombo is a great hotel in Chania which we would recommend highly but if you are not the Smartest Bunnies In The Forest (see Number 1 above) ask for a room on the first floor to avoid carrying 72 kilos of luggage up (and back down) three flights of stairs.

6. Western Crete is a wonderful, spectacular, unique part of Greece with friendly people and incredible natural beauty and the old town of Chania is picturesque and charming.


Packing Cubes, Ballistic Clad Meteors, Not the Smartest Bunnies in the Forest:

I was never very good in physics. Apparently I’m also fuzzy on the whole conversion of pounds to kilos thing as well. So, when the nice lady at the Air France ticket counter in Toronto informed us that we would be required to fork over $100 to get our two overweight bags on the plane, or otherwise repack them into four bags, before we even started the vacation we knew we were in trouble. After swearing to each other that on our next trip we would be traveling with a toothbrush, a packet of Kleenex and a Visa Card we tried to figure out what went wrong. Aside from the obvious (“You brought too many clothes and too many shoes you Dolts!) we realized our mistake. On our last trip we had discovered that wonderful invention – the packing cube. That vinyl “envelope” with the Velcro and the plastic card is the smartest packing aid on the planet. We got ours from Eagle Creek. They’re great. You fold all your clothes in these nice tight rectangles, pile them up and compress them into these little bundles and Voila! – Bob’s your Uncle! You shove these nifty, dense cubes of clothing into your suitcase and you have SCADS of room.

We had ten packing cubes. Yes…TEN. Those of you who took physics, and are much smarter than we are, see the problem. When you “C-O-M-P-R-E-S-S” things they are heavier! Dummies like me – “Wow – look at all the extra space in the suitcase – let’s pack more!” -- shouldn’t be allowed to leave the driveway at home! We were even more embarrassed when we met a lovely couple in their seventies in Folegandros on their thirtieth trip to Greece, who were traveling with two bags half (and I mean HALF) the size of our carry on bags! We may not be that efficient, but we swore – never again.

The good thing was that our luggage was checked through to Athens (or so we thought) so in theory we wouldn’t have to deal with the two Swiss Army meteorites encased in water-proof ballistic material until we were in Greece.

The Air France flight was pleasant – as pleasant as can be crammed into the standard economy class seat. The Air France food was a cut above the average airplane fare and France’s national airline seems committed to maintaining the French reputation for good food. There was a tasty baguette that tasted like bread. Entrees were hot, moist, tasty and far removed from the usual “goop” covering leathery dried meat. Good cheese and dessert. Some great wines, cognac after dinner with good coffee. It was a nice way to start the vacation.

Charles de Gaulle, Our Luggage Enjoys Extra Time in Paris, The Greek Shrug:

And then we landed in Paris. Which leads me to the topic of: “The EVIL that is Charles De Gaulle Airport”.

As background, when I went searching for flight options to Greece this time, the cheapest option was flying into one of the Europe hubs and a connecting flight to Athens. The question was which hub. We had flown British Airways last time and had a great experience. But the two week-long closures at Heathrow last year made me think that it might be better to consider an alternate where the risk of delayed or cancelled flights would be minimized. So I picked Air France. I did the research on the Airline – better than average airplane food, good service, reliable, they all said. We had over a three hour gap in Paris on the way to Athens, (with 1 and a half hours on the way back). I went for it.

What I had NOT done is check these forum boards and others, on the topic of connections through CDG airport in Paris. If I had, I would have learned that missed connections through the CDG airport is a common occurrence and a hot topic. If you’re interested, go into the Fodor’s France Forum or the “Airwise” web site, type in CDG and any terminal (ours were blessedly close to each other - 2D and 2F) and take a look at the ranting and raving about connections through CDG. You’ll even see some bad words. If France is your final destination then there are few or no problems. It’s the connections that make things interesting.

I thought Heathrow was bad. Holy Crap is Charles de Gaulle busy! And enormous. And frenetic, and poorly designed, and unfinished, and poorly labeled…but with really cool architecture. The French are infamous for their cutting-edge, thought-provoking modern and futuristic architecture and the Terminal 2 buildings (there are six massive separate parts) are examples of this French flair for the avant-garde. (The TGV station is also incredible). Of course you only see these architectural wonders as a fuzzy blur as you frantically careen through the corridors and concourses trying desperately to get from point A to point B and feeling like one of those experimental mice in a maze.

I swear there is a darkened room in Charles de Gaulle airport, with banks of security cameras, where all the staff sneak away (since they sure as hell are not, as advertised, at the gate ready to guide you to your connecting flight!) to point and laugh at the stampedes of tourists helplessly trying to find their way to their flight. I can just imagine Jean-Pierre munching on his morning Pain de Chocolat, laughing with his buddies and pointing at the screens filled with endless hordes of zombie-like tourists wandering aimlessly through the cavernous terminals: “Attendez. Look at zat one zere Louis! Ze won avec le Disney shirt. He is going down ze same hall to ze men’s toilette for ze fifth time…Tee Hee Hee….And zat couple zer off zee plane from Canada – zey are headed to the TGV to Dusseldorf instead of Terminal Deux-D. Ar Ar Ar”

Perhaps my imagination gets the best of me, and yes I exaggerate slightly, but due to the sheer enormity of its size CDG is a bit of a logistical nightmare even when you know were you are going. We had plenty of time to make our connections on the way to Athens, so we were not too concerned as we stepped off the Toronto flight at six a.m. When you check in Air France gives you this nice booklet with maps of the terminals and tells you that all “Correspondence” (connection) passengers will find an army of helpful airport staff ready to guide you to where you want to go. “Hah!” “Hah” I say again. As we walked off the jet way the 450+ passengers from our flight merged with umpteen hundreds more from an adjacent offloading flight from Lagos into a tiny bottleneck that looked more like my parent’s dimly lit rec room in the seventies. Passengers stared blankly at screens, drifted into one of three queues (to where, no one knew). The one CDG staff member surrounded by a mob of people asking for directions was very friendly but spoke no English and we couldn’t even get to him. The other lady we approached directed us into a line-up without asking us where we were going. It was not where we wanted to go. When we asked again, she began giving us instructions before we could finish telling her where we wanted to go. Not helpful. She pointed us in another (wrong) direction, again. We decided we had nothing to lose and headed off in what seemed to be a direction towards 2D. We eventually found a customs line up, exited and got to the concourse past the TGV station to 2D. The Departure hall in 2F is actually quite cool. Terminal 2D also looks nifty but the architect never asked anyone whether it would be quite so nifty when the 275 people trying to get to a departure gate were jammed into a space the size of an average fast-food restaurant with a few thousand other people trying to walk (or barrel) through them to their gates (some travelling at break-neck speeds with hard cased luggage flying behind them).

Queuing up and line-ups must be a North American thing. The boarding calls at all of the airports we passed through this vacation in Paris and Greece were more in the form of Rugby scrums than orderly boarding of an aircraft. It was unique experience in Paris to be hip-checked by a woman in a beautiful Chanel suit off the Paris fashion runway and Prada shoes and bumped aside by a man in a spiffy business suit with a leather brief case worth more than my car just to be the first to get on a plane.

We got to Athens. Kathy’s suitcase didn’t, but we did. With a 3 hour layover in Paris it boggled my mind that a suitcase couldn’t make it from one airplane to another. Maybe they were worried the plane might not get airborne with the weight of it! We had a two hour buffer for our Olympic flight to Chania. That quickly narrowed to 30 minutes by the time we waited to confirm that we were missing a suitcase, and stood in the agonizingly slow line up at the lost luggage counter in the Athens Airport (since there were apparently a number of lost bags).

After confirming arrangements to forward the bag to Crete the next day, we raced to the Departure Levels only to discover not less than a 1,000 people in a massive snaking line-up for Olympic Airlines, and only five check-in counters opened. There was just no way we were going to make the flight.

I love the Greek shrug. You ask a question that you feel involves an urgent, timely matter that will impact upon your life to some significant degree and necessitates a firm, definite response. And you get “The Shrug”. The two shoulders go up in the direction of the ears, the head tilts, the hands extend, the person smiles or flutters his or her eyes and in a single gesture tells you “Who knows/Whenever/Oh Well/Too Bad/That’s Greece”. As we frantically got to what seemed to be the end of a winding lineup for every bloody Olympic Flight departing from Athens in the next week I asked the Olympic lady extending the strap to lengthen the line-up yet further if there was a SHORT line for a flight leaving in 25 minutes. The Shrug. “Here”, she says pointing to the shuffling crowd. Another man came up behind us asking the same question for a flight leaving in only 15 minutes. Again The Shrug. “There is no short line – this is it”.

I instructed Kathy not to move and raced around the mob to the front. Through the bedlam I heard one of the check-in staff yell over the crowd “Chania”. Ignoring the hundreds of people behind me I pushed my way through to the lady at the ticket counter. There was a rather heated argument in Greek going on between two ladies at the front of the line. Though I’ll never know, they seemed to be arguing about who was next. Family members were jumping into the fray. I took advantage of the diversion, and told the lady at the counter of our urgent need to get a boarding pass to Chania. “You can do it now”, was the answer. There seemed little chance to rationally explain that I had a wife and hundreds of pounds of compressed clothing in ballistic anvils located at the back of the line so I took off past some very angry people to the back of the line, and grabbed Kathy and the luggage. Back to the front of the line. We were lucky, the argument had escalated and a Greek Orthodox Priest seemed to have somehow joined in (an interested party or rendering divine justice on the issue?) and now arms were waving. Uncharacteristic for we, the polite orderly Canadians, so used to the orderly universe of line-ups, - we rudely pushed to the check-in counter and pleaded for boarding passes. The Olympic lady was great. Grasping the urgency of the matter she processed the luggage without any thought of weight allowance and not bothering to asking if a member of the Taliban had assisted us in packing nuclear warheads in our luggage (which was again plausible given the weight). We were racing down the terminal, held our breath through the blue smoky haze of the Athens Airport Food Court, and arrived at the gate. We made it with ten minutes to spare.

We were certain the luggage could not possibly get to Chania with us. But, as a testament to the excellent state-of-the-art baggage handling system installed in the new Athens airport before the Olympics, or good luck, all the bags rolled off the carousel in Chania (all of them except Kathy’s suitcase which of course was still holidaying in Gay Paree).

We were ready to start our vacation.

(……Part 1 to be continued)

  • Report Abuse

    TRAVELS IN GREECE - PART 1 - Continued

    Chania, Porto del Colombo and Greek Bathrooms

    Chania was wonderful. Uniquely Greek, and yet so different from the Cycladic Islands, or Athens. The mix of Venetian and Turkish and late 19th century architecture in the old city, wrapped around the pretty harbour front, has charm and character. The streets and building are clean and proudly maintained by shopkeepers and residents. That unsightly and ugly growing trend of vandals who use paint cans to scar historic buildings that survived brutal wars, seems to have been kept to a minimum. (Not so, in Heraklion!). We spent four days in Chania with one of them spent in the Samaria Gorge. We strolled the city, visited the sights, the Mosque (with a great art exhibition by a local artist), the Catholic Church hidden off the side street, the little folk museum, the Market, the ramparts and the Kastelli. We wandered the back streets, did some shopping. We walked the sea walls to the lighthouse and tried to substitute a fast-paced sight-seeing agenda with a more laid-back, slow paced experience of Chania.

    There is no vehicular traffic allowed in much of the old city so the driver arranged by our most-excellent travel agency, Aegean Thesaurus, let us off at the closest point near the museum. We just had to walk up the street and over a few hundred feet. And so began the first of many Luggage Exercise Workouts, maneuvering the Ballistic Covered Anvils (and our carry-ons) along the not-so even streets. Up stairs. And down Stairs. And up some more stairs. And down again….

    We stayed at Porto del Colombo and would highly recommend this moderately priced and well maintained hotel on the western end of the harbour, about one street back. Just across the street from its very classy neighbour, the Casa Delfino, the Porto del Colombo is located in a beautiful historic, three story Venetian building. The entrance is particularly striking as a wide expansive set of cobbled steps rises up near the front corner. Stone, marble and stucco is everywhere, with the traditional wood beam and high wood ceilings on each floor.

    The staff at Porto del Columbo were very pleasant and helpful. In addition to the lady at the desk during the week, there were two young ladies who, although limited in their English, (with our non-existent Greek) were able to assist us. When we arrived we were checked into our room on the top floor up three (count-em three) looooong flights of a beautiful winding wooden staircase. I had known full well that there was no elevator in the Hotel and this seemed like an inconsequential and trivial matter when selecting the hotel back in Canada months before. Now, when we had been up for 28 hours, and had run the CDG Airport Lab Rat Maze Marathon, the task of getting even the one suitcase up the stairs brought tears to our eyes. But we were excited and anxious to hit our first Greek Taverna, so together we dragged the bags up the stairs. The next day, when we arrived with the second suitcase retrieved from the airport, the saintly lady cleaning the rooms took pity on us and insisted on helping to carry the bag up the last two flights of stairs.

    The room was charming, with wood floors and wood beamed high ceilings. There were ancient iron rings still in the stone and stucco wall beside the small window looking over the little roof top. (My imagination kicked in with images of Turkish princes chained in Venetian palaces. Alternatively perhaps they tethered the donkeys in this room who were required to haul the hundreds of pounds of luggage to the third floor brought by visiting Venetian aristocrats who also weren’t bright enough to pack light.) The bathroom was small but had character, with a curved stone alcove where the shower was located. The shower, like all Greek bathing receptacles, was small, cozy and sometimes required some acrobatic maneuvers practiced only by Cirque du Soleil and circus performers in order to get the water to your nether regions.

    With only two trips to Greece under our belts we are hardly experts, but I have created three classifications of Greek Bathing Receptacles (aside from the expansive showers found in the high-end hotels).

    First there is the “TUPPERWARE CLASS”. These are small square basins resembling the largest of the Tupperware containers we use to store leftovers in our fridge. There are no walls. They sometimes have a little stool or formed seat while you bathe, and only occasionally are large enough to accommodate your backside such that it does not feel like a pressed ham. After you enter, your knees are around your nose. After you have adjusted the water temperature on the hand-held hose you have about 4 minutes of hot water left to wet yourself, lather, wash and rinse. Putting the hose down to use both hands to get the nether regions or your hair, results in water spraying every which way (sometimes in your face) and often all over most of the remaining four square feet of bathroom, including the clothes you mistakenly tossed on the floor before you started and most certainly the bath mat. By the time you coordinate the maneuvers, you have usually exhausted the hot water in the tiny Greek water-conscious hot-water tanks. You thus finish with a bracing cold blast of water just as you are finishing up. If you are male, this shrinks things. You step out onto the soaked bath mat, shivering with teeth chattering, and reach for the towel-the-size-of-a-tissue that, you realize, was also on the floor.

    The second classification of Greek bathing receptacle is the “REFRIGERATOR CLASS”. These stand-up receptacles contain about the same volume of space as the average stand-up North American Fridge. When you close the door (if you can), and adjust the water temperature, you are invariably going to next slam the faucet or some plumbing fixture into your elbow or take out a hip joint as you turn or bend to grab the soap or shampoo. Genitals are usually also a high-risk zone for guys. Shuffling to aim the water to cover all parts of your body (which usually can’t be done) involves alternative but equally challenging, Circus acrobatic maneuvers. You can remove the hand held hose from it’s hook and aim it accordingly, but in doing so you are likely to again slam your hip or elbow into the plumbing fixture, or worse…..important mid-section body parts. Since the shower doors rarely close completely you have likely sprayed water over the same four square feet of bathroom, including the bath mat and your clothes thrown where you thought they were outside the bathing zone. The hot water is again gone by this time and you usually finish with a bracing blast of cold water. If you are male you are, by this time, speaking in a high-pitched voice and glad you have fathered all the children you wanted. Honeymooners beware.

    The third classification is the “STUCK-IN-THE-CORNER SPARTAN CLASS”. This the classification which confuses North Americans because there is nothing that resembles a shower or a tub in the bathroom and you begin to open closet doors looking for the real bathroom. You soon realize that the bathing receptacle is basically a corner of the small tiled bathroom, with a hand-held hose, and a floor that theoretically is sloped to allow the water run to a drain but invariably does not. Lacking any confinement you actually might be able to shower in a time efficient manner and may thus finish your bathing before the water turns icy cold. Your body parts are also usually safer because you won’t bang into anything. However, if your Wife happens to be putting on her make-up at the sink adjacent to the Corner Class bathing area, you may discover that you have inadvertently drenched your better half who now has mascara streaking down her face, with hair matted to her face and looks that could kill. Since there is no separation between the bathing area and the toilet, sink or your wife, every square inch of the bathroom and it’s contents are now covered in water including the roll of toilet paper, your undies, your bath mat and the tissue-sized towel. It will matter very little, since your Wife, as pay-back, has removed anything from the bathroom that would allow you to dry yourself. Sitting on the toilet immediately after bathing, with the Stuck-In-The-Corner Class of Bathing Receptacle can be hazardous to your health (and embarrassing) as your wet backside may slide off of, or worse, into the middle of, the wet toilet seat.

    I digress. Aside from the standard quirks of the Greek bathing receptacle (no different from any other hotel in Greece) which is part of the true Greek vacation experience, the Porto Del Colombo Hotel was a great old-world, charming mid-sized hotel. (There was actually plenty of hot water and only minimal discomfort in the Refrigerator Class Shower. My undies did get soaked however.) The hotel is located right off the waterfront and within easy walking distance of anything, including the bus station and the majority of the Tavernas (there seems to be five per square block). The breakfast in the morning was basic: sweet bread, toast, jam, coffee or tea, and of course creamy Greek Yogurt with Honey – nothing exceptional but satisfying and pleasant. We’d highly recommend Porto Del Colombo as a charming, pleasant mid-priced hotel, with a great location in the old town. However, pack accordingly or bring a spouse the size of an NFL linebacker to haul the luggage up the stairs (I certainly don’t fit in that category, wimp that I am, and Kathy will be pleased that I clarify that she also is not of such hulking stature!)

    Explorations in Chania – Great Greek Food

    We made a trip to the Market which is the Cross-Shaped indoor market near the south boundary of the old city. Although a good portion of the market seems stocked with the standard tourist fare and trinkets, there are also stalls selling produce, fish and meats. It was interesting seeing fresh bunny-rabbit fully skinned except for the little furry rabbit feet – obviously not so lucky for the rabbit. The fish stalls were packed with beautiful fresh fish and seafood, some of it still wriggling and squirming. There was fresh produce, herbs and a good assortment of the great fresh produce, meats and ingredients you are enjoying at the local restaurants of Chania. One of the neatest things was when I looked down and saw two huge straw baskets filled with live snails, moving and wiggling ever so slowly. Later at dinner I tried the little critters as the basic ingredient in the Cretan delicacy of snails in wine or tomato sauce. There was also a bakery selling heavenly sweets and baking including bougatsa.

    In another stall one lady was happy to share her knowledge and provided a lesson in the grades and types of the prized Cretan olive oil. The bags of dried herbs are sold in bulk. It almost hurt to see the huge pails and containers of awesome creamy feta cheese and the “Yogurt of the Greek Gods” that we can’t get enough of in Greece every morning at breakfast. The thought of adding THAT to our luggage was a tortuous dream. And of course, there were cans and bottles by the hundred of that incredible thyme Greek honey, a specialty in Crete. The discovery of Greek Thyme Honey and creamy Greek yogurt on our first vacation was like an epiphany. I never liked yogurt and honey was….well honey - something you occasionally put in your tea or added to a recipe back home. But after we had Greek Yogurt drizzled with gobs and gobs of sweet, amber, nutty, thyme scented honey (and nuts or berries added) we thought we’d found breakfast heaven. There is nothing like Greek Honey and the Cretan honey is amazing.

    If you enjoy cooking, and want to check out Greek ingredients, don’t miss the Chania market.

    As you can tell, we like to eat. We fell in love with Greek cooking during our first trip. Sitting in a Greek Taverna for hours enjoying terrific fresh ingredients, simply done, with great local red and white wines is something to be savoured and which makes memories. It is always particularly good when sitting by the Aegean sea, watching the sunlight twinkle off that special blue water and people watching. The Greek concept of never rushing a meal, where eating is a social event is so very sensible. And never bringing the cheque until it is demanded is also so civilized (unlike North America where you are sometimes told when you sit down that the restaurant wants “the table back” for the next seating!). Instead of the “On Your Mark. Get Set. Eat!” approach to North American dining, in Greece you are always welcome to spend hours, if you like, sipping and tasting and eating and enjoying good company. Which is exactly what we like to do in Greece.

    We had great food in Chania. We had researched the various restaurants before leaving. We unfortunately couldn’t get to all of them in four days. Particularly memorable was Apostolos 2 (there is an Apostolos 1 as well – the second one is almost the last restaurant at the very end of the inner Harbour at the start of the walk to the sea wall). Our first meal was enjoyed in the late afternoon on our first day with the sun warming our pale Canadian faces. The fava (oh so creamy), the Greek salad (fresh tomatoes and cukes bursting with flavour and the “slab” of feta cheese). Roasted vegetables. We ordered the grill plate for two people….that could really feed six. The grilled shrimp and cod and small fish exploded with simple fresh tastes of the sea, and good olive oil. We discovered the Cretan wines are excellent. The always-gratuitous sweets at the end of the meal at Apostolos included tiny hot phyllo triangles drenched in warm honey and two plates of spoon sweets with a tiny bottle of ice cold tskoudis. We returned again our last evening in Chania where the meal was every bit as memorable, but a bit windy.

    Chania Harbour and the Old Town

    We had spent the first day and a half (Friday and Saturday) exploring Chania and enjoying the sunshine and the ambiance of Western Crete. We had been required to make a quick taxi detour back to the airport on Saturday to pick up Kathy’s suitcase. The suitcase arrived safely, looking none-the-worse-for the wear, having enjoyed it’s extra Parisian holiday. (We could tell because the suitcase smelled of gaulloises cigarettes and pastis, and looked like it had spent the wee hours of the morning in some French café engrossed in deep philosophical discussions with some local ratty intellectual Louis Vuitton garment bag arguing about Jean-Paul Sartre and dark and disturbing French films.) The Suitcase, although a better bag for having enjoyed a cosmopolitan sojourn in the City of Light, still weighed as much as a large box of bricks, and we hauled it to the taxi and back into Chania.

    After a terrific late lunch near the harbour, we walked around the sea wall to the lighthouse on Saturday which was a wonderful way to spend an hour. Beyond the wall, and to the east, the hills of Akrotiri rose up from the sea, and Zorba’s mountain (where the last scene of the movie was filmed on the hillside and the beach) was visible in the distance. Up on the sea wall, the view back towards the harbour was postcard-perfect. The still-snow-capped White Mountains rose up in the distance forming a majestic backdrop to the old city, with its interesting mix of Turkish minarets and church steeples, Venetian buildings, and the old fortifications. It was fairly quiet as the crowds of summer had not yet descended, and that unique so-bright sunshine of the Aegean sucked and teased that incredible shade of blue from the sea waters along the coast. We sighed that contented vacationer’s sigh that says: “We SO deserve this!” and smiled.

    We returned to the hotel, unpacked our bags and organized for our early morning departure for the bus to the Samaria Gorge. As we laid our heads down we heard the distant sounds of the crowds coming in the open window from the harbour, carried on the breeze. After 33 hours travelling without sleep on the previous two days of travelling on Thursday and Friday, we had not yet fully caught up on our sleep, so we were conked out within seconds of hitting the pillow on Saturday evening. It is quite possible that the local Chania population strolling the harbour wondered about the strange buzzing chain-saw sounds coming from the west end of the old town as we snored ourselves into oblivion.

    NEXT INSTALLMENT – Hiking the Samaria Gorge, 17 kilometers from 4000 feet all downhill, and four legs of Jello. Further explorations in Chania. A lesson in traditional Cretan knives and arm hair shaving. Fields of Daisies in the Air and Hidden Churches.

  • Report Abuse

    Loved your descriptive report. I will be in Greece next month at this time and this report reved up my excitement level.
    Can't wait to hear about the gorge because I am thinking about that also.

  • Report Abuse

    Dave -

    Excellent trip report! Had to laugh out loud at your bathroom categories.
    Keep it coming - hubby and I leave for Greece next thursday - August 23rd and will be spending time in Chania, Heraklion, and Santorini (as well as other locales)!

  • Report Abuse

    Love your trip report! I can't wait to read about the rest of your trip. DH and I visited Greece in 2006 (mainland) and fell in love with the country. The islands are high on our "future trip wish list".

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for your trip report. I appreciate your humor. We were in Chania just about the same time you were.
    Your description of the showers and people traveling with heavy bags are classic Greek adventures.

    Having said that as an experienced Greek traveler I have developed a few basic rules to live by while in Greece.
    The first one is in respect of luggage. On one of our trips we had two huge back packs and two small packs that could be strapped to our tummies. We took a week long side trip and because of weight restrictions on the small airplane we left the big backpacks in the hotel in Athens. That was a revelation to us. In a week we never missed any of the stuff we left behind. We now travel with the two small school sized backpacks. Greece is such a laid back place you really do not need a whole lot of changes of clothes.
    We take three of everything, wear one set of clothes, have yesterdays in the wash and have one set for tomorrow. When you hit 50 and have wonkey knees this is the only way to go.

    My second rule has to do with showers. It comes in four parts, first undress outside the bathroom. This is the one time it is entirely legitimate to leave your clothes in a heap on the floor. Second, remove the toilet paper as it is virtually useless after being soaked by wayward spray.
    Third never allow anyone else in the bathroom while you are showering unless you both intentionally plan to scrub each other.
    And lastly once you have the hot water flowing, soak yourself down, then turn the water off. Soap yourself and complete your ablutions, then turn the water back on for a rinse. The hot water trapped in the line will generally last long enough for you to get rinsed off and saves you from the dreaded cold water deluge at the end.

  • Report Abuse

    What a sense of humor you have! I just love your writing style. I have been laughing out loud reading your report. The part about your wife's suitcase Parisian holiday smelling of gauiloises & pastis having a discussion with a ratty intellectual Louis Vuitton bag brought tears to my eyes. I leave next week for my first trip to Greece so I am finding your report most helpful, especially the shower types. Please keep your trip report installments coming. I eagerly await more information and your unique (and humorous) writing!

  • Report Abuse

    Love your report! I read the Greek shrug and bathing receptacle portions to my Greek boyfriend who thought the shrug comments were especially funny. :)

    My mother went to Greece with us for the first time this year and the "bathing receptacles" had her very perplexed. She assumed there was some secret we didn't tell her because she kept soaking everything.

    Looking forward to the rest of your report.

    Jana

  • Report Abuse

    >>She assumed there was some secret we didn't tell her because she kept soaking everything.<<

    Love that! The secret is to keep the shower nozzle pointed into the shower - easier said than done. :-D


  • Report Abuse

    How funny are your descriptions of Greek bathrooms and the Lab Rat Maze at CDG? Laughing out loud here.

    And your report of Chania and Crete is really good and informative too. Love your style, more please...

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Folks! Glad everyone enjoyed the first part - never sure how my wacky sense of humour might come across. The next installment should be up some time this week. I'll follow Jed's suggestion and add it right into this thread. It unfortunately may not be up in time for all those lucky people departing for Greece this week - have a great trip and lucky you! Cheers till later.

    Dave

  • Report Abuse

    Dave, we're dying to hear about Samaria Gorge! We are staying in Chania in early Oct and are undecided about doing it, it sounds tough! We've been looking at alternative hikes but it sounds like signposting is a bit hit and miss, also getting from point A to point B may be difficult.

    Looking forward to the next instalment. We have been to Greece a few times and your bathroom descriptions had us in stitches.

    Kay

  • Report Abuse

    KayF --- Why don't you try posting under Crete: GOrges besides Samaria?? Tagging on the end of someone else's travelogue means a lot of people will skip over you query. I'm serious.

    Also, if you want a detailed answer, I suggest posting on Lonely PLanet's Thorn Tree forum,which has a lot more of this kind of thing, since it attracts more travellers who are interested in active things, rather than luxe hotels and fine dining.

    A friend and I in 2002 chose Imbros Gorge after Doing Our Internet Homework, another move I advise. There are photos and even a gorge-walk description. It was perfect. We wanted a hike of about 4 hours or so, no crowds, but terrific gorge scenery. We also had a car and planned to stay down on So. Coast for a couple days insted of returning to a NOrth Coast base at end of day.

    We drove south from Rethymnon area to Imbros, left car at Gorge entry. Great walk---stopped to picnic half-way. In May, saw only 15 people the whole way. Flowers gorgeous.

    At end, theres a km walk to a taverna with taxis. Rode up to top of gorge & drove back down (25+ hairpin turns be warned)...you need not do that! If u do, you're positioned to do the wonderful cliffside walk from Loutro to Chora Sfakion.

    NOTE: find or bring WALKING STICKS for either hike. It's not the hike that tires, but balancing on rocky footing.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the info, I wasn't actually asking for info, just wanting to read Dave's report of the gorge walk. We have read up on some of the other gorges, including Imbros, and are a bit undecided. I'll look at the website, thanks Sheila.
    We are in Edinburgh on holiday, heading up north of here tomorrow but will check that out once we get home. (Can highly recommend Edinburgh!!)

    Thanks again.
    Kay

  • Report Abuse

    TRAVELS IN GREECE – PART 2(a)

    This is a continuation of our Travelogue of our trip to Western Crete, (based in Chania and Loutro), Folegandros and Santorini in early May of this year. Please see Part 1 for our earlier escapades and a description of who we are.

    IN THIS INSTALLMENT we discover the following truths:

    1. 4055 feet is a lot of feet when you are walking from that number all the way down to the number zero.

    2. Someone forgot to put sidewalks in the Samaria Gorge, or alternatively someone forgot to tell us that the first fifteen kilometers of the Samaria Gorge do not contain a single square foot of flat space upon which to place a human foot.

    3. A forty-eight year old pair of legs and knees will send you very clear signal that they did NOT get the Memo that they would be required to descend from an altitude of 4055 feet over 17 kilometers of uneven terrain down the longest gorge in Europe on the second day of vacation.

    4. The Samaria Gorge is: although quite a challenge, GORGEous (pun intended – lets get that one out of the way) spectacular, beautiful, rugged, breath taking and an awesome natural wonder of Greece that should not be missed if you can manage it.

    5. The Cretan knives forged by the macho Cretan warriors of Western Crete are razor sharp and very impressive. Wussy bald Canadians whose arms are used to test those razor sharp blades are NOT so impressive.

    6. It’s really cool to see a basket of live snails in the Chania market (See the First Installment). It is quite another thing to actually eat them. They are still slugs, even if coated in herbs, olive oil and fresh tomatoes.


    PLANNING FOR THE SAMARIA GORGE:

    Before you get the wrong idea, we are not ordinarily the hiker-trekker-nature-loving-mountain-co-op kind of couple. Although we happen to live in Canada’s “big backyard” and people often travel TO our neck of the woods to do the canoeing, fishing and outdoors thing - “We don’t do outdoors”. To give you some sense of the fact that we are so NOT the outdoorsy type, the first time we went “camping” when we got married, Kathy’s parents brought and set up the camper trailer, and our luggage included four coolers of food (including chilled strawberry soup, champagne and chocolate pate), a hot-hair popcorn popper and a 40 foot extension cord.

    As we began to travel through the years, HIKING was not a word that even existed in our self-absorbed vacationing universe. As I have said, for me, hiking conjured up visions of smelly feet in sweaty hiking boots, a very unflattering Tilley Safari wardrobe (I also don’t do floppy hats), overburdened with GPS gear (that I would be unable to operate with my digitally-impaired brain) and being buried beneath an overstuffed ruck-sack filled with hydration packs, survival gear, solar blankets and most importantly flares -- which would most certainly be required when we became hopelessly lost and my wife threatened to beat me senseless unless I summoned a rescue team to return her to the comforts of our hotel. I was neither a hiker, a navigator, an explorer, nor an adventurer. I’m one of those guys who is usually unable to re-fold a map, let alone read it properly.

    This changed when we “accidentally” hiked up a mountain beside the Pitons in St. Lucia, and discovered the exhilaration of exploring the back roads, and seeing some of the natural environment along with the history and the culture. We had begun to get a little more adventurous during our first trip to Greece when we had hiked along the Caldera on Santorini, walking from Oia to Fira and also spent a wonderful day walking the Byzantine Road from Lefkes to the sea on the island of Paros. Both of these moderately challenging hikes had sparked an interest in getting off the beaten track and doing some exploring as part of our vacationing.

    The inclusion of the Samaria Gorge on the itinerary for our second trip to Greece was thus a no-brainer. Our oldest daughter, (lucky kid that she is), had spent a month in Greece with the Canadian Lyceum of Greece in 2004. The Canadian Lyceum is a Canadian organization run by a terrific group of Ontario High School teachers that offers students the opportunity to obtain a full high school credit while experiencing the culture and history of Greece on the island of Crete. The program included an excursion to the Samaria Gorge. We were astonished when our daughter called home that day after returning from the Gorge exuberant with her experience, waxing poetic about this walk through the south coast of Crete. We figured that if the highlight of our teenage daughter’s month in Greece was a hike in a gorge, it HAD to be something special. It usually takes a lot to enthuse the typical-MSN-PS2-iPod-cellular phone-obsessed teenage mind.

    Knowing that the walk was a bit of a challenge, we worked hard in the year leading up to our trip to get into shape and physically ready. Kathy was definitely in better shape than I was, being a more devoted gym-bunny and compliant with her exercise schedule. I didn’t consider myself a slacker. Don’t get me wrong, the Iron Man roster was not likely to include me any time soon and “Part-Time Couch Potato” would most certainly be included within any on-line dating profile I might compose (were I not so happily married to the love of my life). But I was in fair shape. In addition to the moderate physical preparation, we had spoken with an acquaintance who had done a pilgrimage trek in Spain and she recommended hiking poles if we were going to do any amount of hiking. So we bought each other Lekki hiking poles for Christmas. Nothing says “I love you” like two telescoping titanium tipped spikes.

    So we were ready to Rock the Gorge.

    MORNING DAWNS – OFF TO OMALOS

    We knew we were in for a different kind of day when we awoke that morning to the sound of roosters somewhere in the neighborhood. We jumped out of bed and were heading to the bus station before 7:00 a.m. with our packs stocked with water, plenty of moleskin and blister pads, Lekki walking poles, and snacks, and assorted emergency items (including the mandatory stock of “Tushie-Wipes”). The streets near the harbour were quiet and peaceful, very different from the bustle and energy of the evening before.

    The KTEL bus station in Chania is located just a block south of the old city wall and was within easy walking distance of the hotel. We had purchased our tickets the day before. Although, in the busy season, there is apparently an early bus around 6:00 a.m. the earliest bus to Omalos that morning was shortly after 7:00 and that was just fine with us. It was bright and sunny and already warm as we arrived at the bus station. It was easy to distinguish us tourists headed for the Gorge from the locals en route to the multitude of towns and villages of Crete. It was kinda hard to “blend in” decked out in wardrobes ranging from purple bandanas, Tilley Hats, baseball caps, hiking boots, shiny telescopic poles, Uber-sunglasses and every manner of packsack, rucksack, backpack, fanny pack and daypack.

    The logistics of doing the Samaria Gorge Hike are fairly straightforward. There are many pre-packaged tours available which basically includes transportation. The KTEL bus system in Crete is however an excellent and cheaper alternative. The published bus routes and times (although invariably subject to change and requiring that you always pre-check the times) are efficiently organized. The buses are modern, clean and accommodate all manner of luggage (including our boxcars-on-roller-wheels later in the week). The KTEL bus ticket for the Gorge is sold as a round-trip ticket but you must buy the ferry ticket separately in Ayia Roumeli. KTEL offers three or four morning buses to the Gorge once it opens in late April or May, and delivers you right to the top of the Gorge on the Omalos Plateau. At the end of the hike, you arrive at the coastal town of Ayia Roumeli . From there, the ferry departs along the south coast to the small town of Hora Sfakion, where you again board a bus for the white-knuckled ride up and through the White Mountains delivering you safely back to the bus station in Chania.

    Oh yes – and in the midst of this mechanical transportation scheme there is that little matter of the 17 kilometer trek over uneven rocky ground starting at 4,055 feet and ending up at sea-level. For the topographically impaired – sea-level is zero so there is no “estimating” the total elevation drop from Point A to Point B. But at the end of the walk you won’t need a map or a guidebook to tell you the extent to which your body has been carried downhill for such a distance – your legs (and in particular your knees and calves) will be screaming at you – “What the hell were you thinking!!!”

    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    The bus ride was enjoyable especially as we approached the Omalos Plateau. The roads are not quite as precarious and precipitous as the route back from Sfakion, but nevertheless deadly. Deadly that is for the poor darling lamb that got schmucked by our bus near the end of the journey. One minute the bus was maneuvering through a herd of the fluffy wooly critters and then – BUMP – the poor little fellow was bleating beneath the wheel. Somewhere that night in the neighborhood there were lamb-chops on the plate. Life on the Cretan roads.

    There is a small canteen and restaurant at the top of the Gorge. After a quick pit stop, Kathy came upon the brilliant idea of buying a few fresh oranges at the shop. When she asked if there were any for sale, the lady apologized that she “only” had these “small” oranges they used for juice. These “small” oranges made our measly, puny, oranges back home look like grapes and when we stopped and feasted on these orange explosions of juice a couple of hours later, they were literally the best oranges I had ever tasted.

    Before you begin the descent it is possible to walk UP to the quaint look-out building and platform which is the Kallergi Refuge of the Mountain Club of Chania perched a short distance up the side of the mountain. Although the view was tempting, considering what was ahead of us we opted to begin the descent without adding on any extra feets (or feats) of walking.

    The Samaria Gorge is touted as the longest gorge in Europe. As a protected National Park in Greece it is maintained and regulated by the government. The admission fee is paid at the entrance to the gorge. You start the descent at the entrance at 1236 meters above sea level or 4,055 feet and you get to dip your toes in the waters of the Libyan Sea just shy of 17 kilometers later. Official travel time is about 5 ½ hours but this can vary greatly depending on your pace, the number of rest or appreciation stops you choose to make and whether any part of your body initiates a revolution or bloody coup with your brain (which initiated the original decision to start the whole damn exercise to begin with). Generally we started out taking it slow and easy, luxuriating in the amazing vistas at the first part of the descent and then rapidly accelerated near the end realizing that we wanted to make the mid-afternoon ferry and fearing that if we slowed down below a certain acceleration our legs were going to seize up like a rusty farm tractor in a rain storm.

    Although there are rangers who patrol the route, we saw them only at the old abandoned village Samaria which is quite a distance from both the entrance and exit. As I walked the length of the Gorge I tried to imagine the logistics and results of any type of medical assistance needed for any hiker that underestimated the demands of the Gorge. Would an injured person be airlifted or donkey-lifted. The thought of being extracted any number of kilometers with a broken limb upon an ornery bouncing donkey brought tears to my eyes. The thought of being airlifted by helicopter out of the Gorge was even scarier.

    WE BEGIN THE DESCENT

    My first preconceived misconception about the Samaria Gorge evaporated within the first ten feet of the descent. The “Xyloskalo” forms the first part of the descent of the Gorge and is a switch-back stepped pathway that descends almost 1,500 feet in the first two kilometers. It was carved out of the mountain-side by the shepherds of the Omalos eons ago. At home I had mistakenly formulated the image in my mind of a paved, or at least flat, mortared series of steps with handrails for this rapid descent to the floor of the gorge. NOT! The pathway in some places is indeed what could be considered a “pathway”, but is in most places the walk is composed of thousands of juxtaposed rocks and boulders, with the occasional timber, arranged in a complex but very stable series of steps and descents. As we began the process of carefully placing one foot after another onto the next stone, and the next stone, and the next one, (always lower than the last one) I wanted to nominate our friend who had suggested the walking poles for sainthood. My knees have always been the weakest part of my anatomy (after my hair follicles which refuse to grow upon my head) and the hiking poles soon became a valued method of relieving SOME of the pressure on my knees and calves.

    At this point in the hike two things began to crystallize for me:

    1. I realized why, when people ask “What did you see at the Samaria Gorge?” the most common answer is “My feet!”

    2. I began formulating what eventually would become my “Zombie Syndrome” theory. This theory describes the commonly-felt effect that the Samaria Gorge has upon the legs of hikers that descend to the challenge of the Gorge. It was confirmed few days after hiking the Samaria Gorge when we sat on the dock at Hora Sfakion waiting for the ferry to return to Loutro in the late afternoon. The same ferry moves up and down the south coast and serves to deliver hikers from Ayia Roumeli to Sfakion to catch the bus back to Chania. As the huge door descended from the back of the ferry, the throng of Samaria hikers was disgorged from the ferry. There was something commonly odd about everyone exiting to the dock. Then it hit me. Everyone looked like an extra from George Romero’s classic zombie movie “Dawn of the Dead”. Shuffling, flat-footed, stiff-legged, and lurching, the tourists who had walked the full length of the Gorge looked a bit like the hordes of the Undead. Some poor souls were leaning upon their fellow zombies due to the obvious pain shooting up from their calves. I’m sure I even heard a few zombie-like moans as everyone stumbled forward, heading for the comfort of the bus seats. I know with certainty that I saw not-a-few of those glazed-over vacant looks seen in the classic zombie flicks. The only thing missing were the stiff outstretched arms. Since we had been two such “zombie-extras” just a few days before we knew EXACTLY how they felt that day.

    I have to stop here, so as not to give the wrong impression. I am indeed whining here just a bit, (okay – well a lot) and it may sound like walking the Samaria Gorge might be the most miserable and tortuous of vacation excursions in Greece – that’s NOT the case. The Samaria Gorge is most certainly a demanding physical challenge, and to ignore that reality may, I think, invite misery or worse, injury. In my opinion, you have to be either young, or in fair physical shape, to make the entire trek. Weak ankles would be a tad risky. And yes, your lower body, by day’s end, will be sore and quite stiff, and it will take a couple of days to recover. But the Samaria Gorge is worth it. Breathtaking, beautiful, majestic, unique, and humbling are but a few adjectives. The smell of the pines, and the spring flowers in May, and the buzz of the bees and the sound of the birds was so very peaceful. The vistas of the White Mountains during the first two kilometers, descending through the shadow of the pines, were unforgettable. The various crossings at the streams complete with tumbling waterfalls, the ancient chapels and churches, the spooky and abandoned village of Samaria, and the incredible soaring chasms near the “gates” at the lower end of the Gorge were simply amazing. Spectacular.

    And heck – if the King of Greece and his family could make it down the Samaria Gorge in World War II to escape from the invading Germans, then surely we two middle-aged Canadians could do it. I mean how hard could it be.

    (continued in next Post – see below)

  • Report Abuse

    Part 2(b) – Continued

    We took our time, as we said, down to the “floor” of the Gorge over the first stretch. Most, if not all, of our fellow travelers on the bus passed us by. We relaxed and stopped often for pictures and to make some memories. It seemed like we had progressed a lot farther than the sign markers were telling us. For the most part that day, we had the unusual pleasure of walking the Gorge, more or less, in solitude. On any given day in the high season, a couple of thousand people may walk the Gorge, which could make the walk feel a bit like an assembly line or a very unusual queue. This was early May however, and the few trekkers were soon spread out along the length of the Gorge and far ahead of us. (A few were behind). We stopped at the first crossing of the stream and enjoyed the sounds of the waterfalls. We had our Oranges and enjoyed the sunshine. At the water crossing farther down (at the 6 km mark) there is a traditional practice of stacking rocks to mark your passage in and around the pools and eddies of the watercourses and the stream bed. We stopped there and added our own in the nook of a tree.

    One of the neatest things in the Gorge is the appearing and disappearing water. As you travel the walk along the sides and courses of the Gorge the path takes you over and back across the streams which criss-cross the ravines and valleys in the Gorge. The rushing sound of water reverberates. Suddenly the water disappears and it is quiet. The watercourse disappears beneath the ground, only to appear again farther down the Gorge. (Farther down, past Samaria, black piping intrudes on the natural wonder, sucking fresh water down to the coastal settlement at Ayia Roumeli.)

    CHURCHES, DRAGONS AND SCANDINAVIAN OLYMPIANS

    We stopped again at the Church of Agios Nikolaos 4 kilometers into the walk. Tucked away in a stand of cypress trees, this little stone church seems almost lost, but reminds us of our expression – “You can’t swing a dead cat in Greece without hitting a church”. After visiting, and stumbling upon, so many of the whitewashed, stuccoed churches in the Cycladic islands, this ancient stone building nestled in the trees, with it’s tiny rounded portico and shingled roof, seemed more representative of the earth and soil than of the lofty spiritual heavens. Scattered around the church were these striking and impressive purple spiked flowers which we later learned were called Dragon’s Wort or Dragon arum. This big, soft, floppy, purple petal formed a base for a single purple pointed spike rising from green rods. In the sunlight they were magnificent….and apparently quite poisonous.

    It was the stretch between Agios Nikolas and the old village of Samaria (at the 7 km point) that we began to worry that our relaxed pace might leave us finishing the walk under the light of the moon. There was a long stretch under the hot sun and we also began to feel the effects of the dehydration and physical exertions, (and the temperature was not more than 25 to 28 degrees Celsius). It was at this point that the first strains and aches began to be really felt in our lower legs. We were sitting, resting at one point on the broad floor of the basin just before the old village, huffing and puffing and congratulating ourselves at our oh-so-impressive middle-aged accomplishment thus far. Weren’t we great! Weren’t we just so superior to all the lazy sedentary tourists back in Chania sitting in the Tavernas, sipping their Mythos and munching on their mezedes.

    Suddenly a Scandinavian lady with calves the size of my thighs, towering well over six feet, appeared out of no-where sporting a humongous gear-laden back-pack with hiking poles strapped, unused, to the pack! She virtually zoooomed past us, nodding politely and jogging at a pace reserved for most cheetahs. She wasn’t breaking a sweat. She looked older than we were. We were now humbled. With our place in the hiking universe now made clear, and with 10 kilometers still to go we looked at each other and thought we’d best get our soft North-American tushies up and moving down the Gorge.

    We crossed the wooden bridge and made one more stop in the old village of Samaria, with a quick pit stop, and a refill of our water bottles from the fresh spring fountain. Some of the rangers were at the guardhouse in the village with a few of the donkeys. We ate the last orange, took some pictures, and looked around at the eerie deserted village. Samaria was an isolated, but busy, village until 1962 when the village declared the gorge as a national park and relocated the population. A flash flood some years earlier had apparently devastated the village and killed a number of the residents. Now, only the guard station is located here, and somewhere a landing pad exists for a helicopter to land in the case of an evacuation. It was hard to imagine a busy functioning agricultural village existing in such a remote and unique location.

    THROUGH THE GATES AND THE LAST STRETCH

    It is after the village that the truly spectacular part of the Gorge begins. There are three “gates” where the gorge narrows to a narrow chasm, with walls towering hundreds of feet on either side. The path moves back and forth over the stream bed (with wooden bridges in place). As we pressed forward it was difficult to both watch our footing and take in the dizzying height of the rock walls skyrocketing upwards on both sides. At the last of the gates (at the 12 kilometer mark), the gorge view is incredible. With a width of only about 9 feet at the base, the wind was howling through the narrow pass. We were all alone. We were very tired by this point, knowing we had another 5 km walk to the sea. It was difficult to stop and take it all in. It was awesome to consider the force of water that might thunder down the gorge in the spring trying to squeeze through this very narrow opening. Try as I could, the camera could not take in the sheer height and enormity of the canyon walls and the mountain peaks towering beyond. I resisted the temptation to lay on my back and look straight up.

    The last part of the walk, after the gates, was unfortunately somewhat anti-climactic after the many splendours of the Gorge. The little signs make you painfully aware as to how much more you have to walk, (the exit of the park is at 14 kilometers) and hammers home the fact that there is still a rather tedious three-kilometer home stretch to the Tavernas. Although the pathway was paved my knees and calves, by this point, felt like they were trying to crawl up into my groin and hide in something soft and fleshy, just to avoid the continuing pounding thundering up my bones from my feet. The soles of my feet were on fire, despite my top-o-the-line hiking socks and well-worn hiking shoes. The salt from my sweat was now crusting on my shirt. The water no longer tasted quite so refreshing. I felt a bit like a mindless farm animal as we trundled towards the end of the road. I wanted to moo. (Bleating like a wild goat would have been more appropriate given my location.)

    In a rather bizarre twist, after hiking through fourteen kilometers of natural (albeit organized) wonder we managed to get “lost” on the concrete path as it met the little church of Agia Triada, smack dab in the middle of the valley floor. It was on a little rise, and we weren’t sure whether to go left or right around the church. The right answer was right. We went left. Which meant a minor, but annoying 200 foot detour in a circle to meet up with the main path. Unfortunately it necessitated us crossing over a beautiful stone path being laid and under construction. There were two workman involved in the meticulous exercise of laying the stones. Our brains, thickened and hazy, didn’t comprehend that as we approached the end of the path (with me in the lead) stepping on the newly laid stones wasn’t exactly a smart thing to do. The language barrier disappeared in an instant as the stonemason expelled an emphatic and loud: “Eye, Yy, Yy, Yy, Yy, Yy, Yy” which is obviously Greek for “Get the Hell off My Freshly Laid Concrete You Moron.” He was absolutely right of course and somehow the muscles in my legs dutifully elevated me upwards and over the edge of the path with a responsive pleading of “Signomi times six. We hurried away embarrassed.

    AYIA ROUMELI - CUE THE ZOMBIES

    We eventually stumbled into town and bought our ferry tickets from the little office conveniently located on the street leading down to the wharf. The brilliant aquamarine blues of the Libyan sea came into view down the street. There was a great little Taverna/Café right on the waterfront, elevated above the beach and enjoying a refreshing breeze blowing through the terrace. It called to us. We went. We ordered up a Greek Salad, fruit salad, water, and some white wine that splashed down my throat and tasted like nectar of the Gods. It could have been goat’s pee for all I cared at this point. We were not rushed and the ferry was not due to arrive for over an hour. The sun was shining, the view was beautiful and all was right with the world. We got some great shots of each of us smiling, exhausted, but proud of the accomplishment.

    Immediately to the side of the Taverna was an outdoor Café with a couple of trees situated among the tables. We had a birds eye view. We giggled as one of the locals entered with a dog and began to engage the lady at the bar in conversation. As he did so, his dog made the circuit of the plants within the Café dutifully lifting his leg and “making his mark” on the café’s vegetation. No one was fazed. Kathy smirked that we were no longer in the Land of the Anal-retentive Health Inspectors.

    We wandered down to the beach for a few minutes as the ferry came into view. The sun was beginning to wind its way towards the west. The old Turkish castle was visible up above the hillside. We commented that given its location, it was likely seldom visited by the Samaria hikers. If we were indicative of the physical condition of most hikers waiting for the ferry after finishing the Gorge, the possibility of climbing UP another hill to see a Turkish castle was NOT in the cards.

    The Ferry “Daskalogiannis” appeared and soon we were climbing the stairs to the upper deck for the trip eastwards along the south coast, past Loutro to Sfakion. I was walking behind Kathy, and as each leg struggled to climb up to the next step I muttered “Ouch,Ouch,Ouch” for effect. There was no sympathy.

    In what was surely an act of sado-masochism we grabbed a seat with a land view (the port side?) so we could scout out our hike planned for the Aradena Gorge and Sweetwater beach walk in around Loutro. We were scheduled to move from Chania to Loutro two days later, on Tuesday. In planning our trip we had picked Loutro so we could do some exploring and hiking from this picturesque and isolated fishing village. We tried to mentally map the coast terrain for the upcoming hikes. The massive “gash” in the land, that is the Aradena Gorge, and the visible winding trail of the coastal walk all the way from Aradena to Hora Sfakion resulted in two obvious “Gulps”. Were we crazy? Were we really going to aim for two more days of hiking after what we had just done? “Of course!!”, said the Crazy Canadians with few functioning synapses and even fewer functioning leg muscles. We can do it!

    About a half hour later we exited the ferry at Hora Sfakion. In my head I heard George Romero yell from somewhere: “Cue the Zombies”. We exited from the ferry, stiff legged and shuffling to the bus. Perhaps, more pragmatically, we would have to see how things were by Tuesday before hiking up (or down) any more mountains.

    BACK TO CHANIA

    The bus from Sfakion to Chania was packed. We chatted with two very nice ladies from New Zealand (who had also zoomed by us on the walk, leaving us to eat their dust). The hyperventilation began shortly after leaving Sfakion. I had seen pictures of the road up through the pass and into the mountains along the Imbros Gorge, and down to the north coast. I knew the ride was a little…well, “viewsome”. I was prepared for that.

    What I wasn’t prepared for was that we had a Nascar wannabe in the driver’s seat and we (and our fellow Kiwi travellers) were soon in need of paper bags (whether to breathe into or retch depended on your constitution) as we careened up the road and around the hairpin turns with just a little TOO much gusto. The KTEL drivers are phenomenal drivers and obviously very good at what they do. Our driver, I prayed, was going to uphold that reputation proudly by delivering us alive in Chania. I desperately wanted to assist in the driving and I was repeatedly pressing on my fake brake nine seats back from the guy who was really in control. I tried to recall whether any of those “Bus Plunges” headlines that you read about originated from Greece or from far more remote locations. As an act of avoidance (or denial) I twisted my head to concentrate on the rock walls, instead of looking at the sheer cliffs dropping hundreds of feet to my side. (I had mistakenly chosen the window seat – I’m such an idiot sometimes!). I took little comfort in the fact that we were facing this drive again, two more times, later in the week! What fun THAT would be.

    Mercifully, my old body rescued me from my anxiety and tendency to dramatically fantasize my premature death. I fell asleep as we passed the entrance to the Imbros Gorge.

    (Having travelled the route three times over our trip, we stopped at the top of the Imbros Gorge a number of times as hikers exited here for this shorter, but apparently still amazing gorge hike. This hike was highly recommenced by a number of shopkeepers and locals while we were in Chania. It is much less busy and, by all accounts, equally as impressive. The guide books and hiking guides include the Imbros Gorge in their lists of “must-dos” and the pics on the net were quite impressive. Having not walked this Gorge (we couldn’t do them all) I can’t speak with any authority, but I can say that looking down into the Imbros Gorge from the bus waaaaaaaay up on the side of the mountain – this is no minor gorge either!!)

    (continued in next Post – see below)

  • Report Abuse

    Part 2(c) – Continued

    I came out of a fuzzy haze just as we were entering Chania. Something was different. It was the lower part of my body. My legs seemed to be facing backwards! At the very least someone seemed to have performed a cruel knee-joint fusion in my sleep making it difficult to flex my legs. I groaned. Kathy looked at me. “Legs?” she asked. “What legs?” I replied. I almost pitched forward onto my face as I tried to exit the bus.

    By the time we reached the Porto del Colombo, we were feeling a little better and the kinks seemed to have worked themselves out. However, when I tried to walk up the first of the three flights of stairs – my knees wouldn’t bend. Kathy was actually doing fine, being in better shape than I was. The nice young lady at the front desk probably wondered what the weird Canadian guy was doing side-stepping it one step at a time up the stairs. Either that or she shook her head and muttered “Samaria”.

    After a quick shower, we were famished and ready to enjoy a nice relaxing meal. I considered whether to suck it up and go down the stairs on my rear-end (which would be humiliating but less painful) or to do the macho thing and do the side-step descent. I would have liked to use the hiking poles but figured the Porto del Colombo management might take exception to the gouge marks on the wooden staircase.

    The sun was setting and the harbour was alive with people. We had an awesome dinner at Monastiri, around the corner from the Mosque. Their grilled and baked meats and vegetable dishes were amazing. Despite the fact that they had a podium with the laminated pictures of the food at the front, the guide books were right in identifying this as one of the friendliest and best restaurants in Chania. This was one of the restaurants always packed with Chania residents each night and the staff were particularly friendly. There was a dish called “Nun’s Sin” which was pork stuffed with tomatoes and peameal bacon. I also had excellent roasted lamb, and the Saganaki (fried cheese) was really good. There was an awesome warm dish of fried potatoes and cheeses which we dubbed “Greek Poutine”. It was a somewhat more refined version of the dish we were familiar with back home. “Poutine” is a Quebec dish that can hardly be described as “high cuisine” – you take a large dish of deep fried French fries, then sprinkle cheese curds or mozzarella cheese on top and then smother the plate with hot gravy. It is a high-calorie, high-fat, high-cholesterol indulgence that is great with a burger. The soggy concoction is a favourite in most diners and restaurants across Quebec and parts of Ontario. This Greek version was MUCH better.

    We strolled SLOOOOOWLY back to the hotel and fell into a Coma. With typical melodrama, I dreamt I was leading an army of moaning stiff-legged Zombies across a rock-strewn landscape, but the buggers all jogged past me with gigantic backpacks, waving cheery hellos of the undead.

    DAWN OF THE DEAD – MONDAY MORNING IN CHANIA

    The next morning, the top half of me got out of bed, but the bottom half stayed on the mattress. The resulting stumble was less than graceful, but only Kathy was watching and she moaned in sympathy. I felt a little better that someone was sharing my misery. We popped a couple of anti-inflammatories, (medicinal druggies that we are) jumped in the shower (well, shuffled slowly would be more accurate) and headed down for breakfast in order to explore the rest of Chania. Once we were up and about (or as Canadians say – ooot and abooot) we felt a lot better but it took until Wednesday morning for our legs to get back to normal (in time for our next hike in Loutro).

    We decided to relax and tour Chania. We started by exploring the back streets on the west side of the old city. At the very southwest side, near the Schiavo Bastion tower, we turned the corner and stumbled upon an interesting view of the city. Up a path there is an overgrown path up a ramp to the west wall of the city. As we came to the top we discovered what I could classify as the “Wildflower Hanging Gardens of Chania”. The entire surface of the tower and wall was covered in thousands of wildflowers, mostly wild daisies. We took some pictures of this sea of daisies with the minarets and towers of the churches of Chania spread out below. Just below the wall was an interesting side streets where the walls, through the ages, had slanted inwards. Unfortunately, in the more recent ages, this quaint curiosity was sadly marred by some ugly graffiti. I just can’t figure that one out!

    KNIFE BRANDISHING CRETAN WARRIORS AND MY FEATS OF DEATH-DEFYING BRAVERY

    We moved eastwards, up to the Kastelli of the city, past the Minoan excavations, to the square, Platia 1821 where we had a light lunch in the pretty square beside the Ayios Nikolaos church, once a Turkish mosque. (Try the Cretan dish of dried rusk bread with tomatoes, onions and feta cheese if you have the chance. Most excellent with good Greek wine!) We then headed off to find one of the knife shops of Chania. The Cretan tradition of knives has had a long history and in different areas of the island, there remain some of the traditional knife artisans. On Sifaka Street we found one of the shops, “O Armenis” where a very friendly and helpful lady gave us some of that history, explaining her family’s history, how the knives were made, some of the differences in the leather, steel, wood and bone handles, and the engraving and the “mandinada” poetry on the knives. I thought one of these knives would be a great souvenir and a practical addition to my kitchen knives and we picked one. It was a fairly hefty, with an angled blade and very sharp point, apparently made for slitting the throats and skinning hides from the family goats (or, I suppose, the “other” clan in a West Cretan Sfakia blood feud). I was embarrassed to know that it would be used for the much less macho tasks of slicing my tomatoes and carving the Sunday chicken purchased from the local grocery store. As we left, the lady told us that the patriarch himself could be found across at the workshop across the street.

    And he was. As we walked along the sidewalk peering into the shops we eyed a white haired, classic Cretan fellow sleeping in a wooden chair, facing the door and surrounded by the machinery and tools of his craft. Not wanting to wake him, we kept going, but alert to the possibility of a sale he heard us, jumped up and ushered us into the workshop. He spoke no English, but we managed to explain that we had just purchased one of his knives from the lady in his store (who I believe was his daughter-in-law) across the street. I pulled the knife out to show him. He unwrapped the knife, removed if from his sheaf and tested it with his finger. He decided it needed some fine tuning for the tourist. He handed the knife back and started up his grinder. He motioned me over and I gave him the knife and he sharpened the blade and then honed the edge with the whetstone. He motioned me over closer. Suddenly he grabbed my wrist and brandished the blade with great theatrics over my arm. I was proud to say that in a very uncharacteristic move on my part, not only did I hold steady, without flinching, but I also avoided a very unmanly squeal. Having proved the strength of my bravery the Cretan knife-maker of Sifaka Street dragged the blade over my forearm, cleanly dry-shaving a section of my arm air, as proof of his skills. Kathy got a picture of me, my knife, and the knife-maker. I proudly displayed my square inch of bald arm to anyone who would listen in the next month. (My kids humoured me, upon our return, pretending to see the shaved arm and clearly NOT appreciating the extent of my death-defying flesh-surrendering bravado.)

    MORE EATING, HIDDEN CHURCHES AND A MUSEUM OF TRADITIONAL CRETE

    We managed to fit in yet more eating in the space of another day. We found Karanagio (or Karanayio), also on the waterfront, which is located a bit back from the harbour behind a parking lot. This place is also on everyone’s short lists and has a large menu and excellent Cretan and Greek food and seafood. I tried the snails here which were served “fresh from the basket”, in the shell, very simply fried with some oil and herbs and a bit of tomato and not smothered in cheese and garlic as more commonly seen. Very tender and tasty but still required me to cope with the very simple fact – “I’m eating a slug!”.

    In our humble experience it seems that some Greek restaurants are geared to tourists and others (while always welcoming visitors with open arms) are favoured by the locals who know their good food. You can never go wrong with a Taverna that is packed with Greeks, but of course it is seldom before 9:00 or 10:00 at night. We also saw the other establishments in Chania, (particularly on the waterfront), with a ubiquitous “Taverna Salesman” at the front trying to politely hustle you into one of the empty tables. Some of these had the glossy, laminated menus with rather unappetizing pictures of Moussaka, Souvlaki, Pastitsio and Greek Salad. Maybe the food was good, but much of it, when we passed by, sometimes looked warm and tepid and unappetizing. Sometimes the beep-beeping sounds of microwaves from the Kitchen made us walk a little faster. There was one taverna on the waterfront that was perpetually empty the entire time we were in Chania despite the valiant attempts of the man in the peach colored shirt and bright suspenders to hustle passer-bys onto the chairs. The only time there were people there was the night of the basketball game when even the fellow in the suspenders was glued to the T.V.

    Taman was on our list, and right around the corner from Porto del Colombo, and was always packed each evening. Another lovely place off the harbour was Semiramis (8 Skoufon) which is a few streets back from the harbour and located in a beautiful treed courtyard illuminated by strings of lights and waterfalls. Musicians were playing folk songs that last evening we went, which made it very romantic. We had only a light meal with desserts but the full menu (and watching the plates go by) listed the full range of good home cooking. This is a great place to enjoy some music in a quiet setting.

    Two of the other things we managed to do that last day was visit the tiny Cretan House Folklore Museum displaying artifacts of traditional life in Crete. By no means was this anything hugely special, but it was neat seeing some of the photos and also the implements of traditional life on the island. Around the corner was the Roman Catholic church of Chania. Down the same alley way, and off a very peaceful little square with a statue of what looked to be a Benedictine monk, was a beautiful church. It was twilight. The doors were open and it was extremely quiet. One elderly man was sitting in a pew. It was beautifully adorned very much unlike the Catholic churches back home and very different from the Greek Orthodox churches.

    We missed both the naval museum and the archeological museums, simply because we ran out of time. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be forced, kicking and screaming against our will, to return to Western Crete to see what we had missed the first time. Not that we need a reason to come back to Greece, but we had two legitimate ones now.

    We returned to the Hotel and packed up the Bags From Hell, ready to go for the next morning. We were off to Loutro and more hiking if the Greek Gods favoured us. Kathy was more or less recovered. I was certain my knees would be back to normal by the next morning. However, I couldn’t forget that one, teensy-weensy, physical trial those Greek Gods would be throwing at me to prove my worthiness. I still had to help move the two Ballistic Nylon Torpedoes down the lovely, circular, three-story staircase. It seemed ironic that might have survived the infamous Samaria Gorge only to perish beneath a falling suitcase.


    IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT – Wonderful Loutro – The Crescent of Tavernas – Greek Taverna Gods from Conde Nast - Walking from Loutro to Sweetwater to Hora Sfakion – The Hike up the Mountain and down the Aradena Gorge – Dead Goats Have No Predators - Off to Heraklion – Tourist Traps (no really!)

  • Report Abuse

    Well, now I have 3 weeks to decide if I want to walk the gorge. Guess I will wait and see what the weather is like.
    I am a couple years older than you and think I am in pretty good shape but at this age you never know. Those aches and pains just come out of no where.

  • Report Abuse

    I'm truly enjoying your travelogue - I feel like I'm right there with you!

    There is one addition I'd like to make to your commentary on Greek Bathing Receptacles. The bathtub in the middle of the room - next to the bed. Our shower experience was #3, with a toilet in that room... and then the bath tub and sink were just out in the open in the main room. Which also meant you couldn't wash your hands after using the toilet until after you had left the bathroom!

  • Report Abuse

    To those wondering about walking THE Gorge (which is what everyone seems to call the Samaria Gorge), please note my post after Part I -- about Imbros.

    I walked it a few years ago, it's just lovely, almost no people, 1/2 the length of Samaria yet just as spectacular, and I was fine the next day, to do the "cliff walk" from Loutro to Hora Sfakion (and I'm a retiree).

    Dave described accurately the Zombie look of Samaria walkers... and others have told me they spent most ofr their time looking at their feet. I think if some of them had spent time looking at guidebooks & the internet to compare gorges, they might have made a different choice. I recommended googling "Imbros Gorge" both for accounts, gorge maps, and on "image" to see photos of it.

    That being said, I thank Dave so much for his delightful detailed description of both Samaria and Chania...I"ve been to the latter place 4 times and it still charms me anew.

  • Report Abuse

    To TravelerJan -
    re the Imbros Gorge, I have read you can catch a bus to the top of the gorge but how easy is it to get back from the bottom once you have finished? Are there buses back to Chania? I read that you had a car but we are not keen on driving. I imagine a taxi back to Chania would cost a fortune.
    Kay

  • Report Abuse

    KayF

    Traveler Jan might confirm if anything of this is incorrect.

    We're not drivers either so I'm with you on the bus/no driving idea. If you are staying in Chania you would catch the KTEL bus going to Chora Sfakion and tell the bus driver you want to stop at Imbros. The day we rode the bus a number of people stopped there.

    The link to the KTEL web site is: http://www.bus-service-crete-ktel.com/timetables3.html. I would check the schedules.

    From Imbros (points of entry clearly marked), you walk the Gorge down towards the coast. The Gorge walk more or less ends near the town of Komitades.

    You have two options then. You can wait for a bus that goes on to Chora Sfakion (which might have a limited timetable. You might have to time your walk to be in Komitades about 3:30 which is about when the bus would leave according to schedule info. (You would have to check the schedule).

    The second option is to continue the walk along the road down to Sfakion. This is about another 4kms or about an hour. We saw a number of hikers doing that.

    (As you walk from Komitades to Hora Sfakion there is another bus stop where you can catch the bus travelling from Chania to Sfakion or vice versa, but if the bus is full it may not stop.)

    Depending on the time you arrive, you can enjoy a great lunch at one of the the many tavernas in Sfakion. The bus stop is right near the waterfront, just up from the docks and all the times are posted.

    Then (assuming you are in Chania) you catch one of the buses back from Sfakion directly to Chania. This is the same bus that the Samaria hikers will take who arrive from Agia Roumelli by ferry. (Currently the KTEL site shows aternoon returns at 17:30 and 19:15 from Sfakion to Chania) You will be delivered right back to the same Chania bus station you left from.

    There are two good "Walks" book. I like the Sunflower book - "Western Crete". The maps are fairly good and so are the walk descriptions/instructions. (I've confirmed the above info from the Sunflower book).

    Another one is "Crete the White Mountains" by Loraine Wilson.

    Hope this helps you.

    Hope my travelogue didn't unduly disuade you from the Samaria. I can say, we had heard so many good things about the Imbros Gorge (as TravlerJan has noted) and it was on our list. However we were too pooped to do that as well as the other Loutro walks we did.

    Have a blast in Crete!

    Dave

  • Report Abuse

    Just discovered this thread - loved your descriptions so much! Especially as I was in Chania late April last year - also staying at the Porto del Colombo, and also hiking the Samaria Gorge.

    Happily I only had a relatively light backpack to carry up the stairs, but I only had 58-year-old knees to carry me down the gorge. After two hours, one knee hurt. After three hours both knees hurt. It took me six hours to make the whole hike. But it was absolutely worth it - and I was fine the next morning. I didn't seem to have the same difficulties with the bathroom, and the hot shower the night of the hike made all the difference.

  • Report Abuse

    Yes Dave, you got it right. There's a bus to Hora Sfakion that will stop at the top of Imbros GOrge. THen as Dave says u can come back from Hora Sfakion in late aft. Anyone doing bus can confrm return times in Chania when they board.


    We did not take it because we had a car and were staying on the Souuth Coast for a couple of days -- we did the boat to Loutro then the 'cliff walk' back to Hora Sfakion, with a swim stop at Sweetwater beach... the day we were there, it was occupied by bronzed beautiful naked German girls frolicking in the foam. Plus us 2 old birds with dark one-piece suits! But also having fun.

  • Report Abuse

    I forgot to say that my secret Gorge 'weapons" are those stretchy Ace knee elastics under my khakis. I don't have knee problems but wearing them for hikes and mountain stuff AVOIDS getting probs. And I'm WAAY older than all these folks in pain (old enough to vote for Kennedy.)..

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for all this info, very useful. It confirms to us, really, that transport is not easy in that part of the world. A 2-3 hr walk/hike would be more manageable for us anyway. We always have such busy holidays, doing and seeing too much and coming home exhausted, so the thought of not doing a gorge walk and instead sitting in tavernas people watching and relaxing sounds pretty damn good.

    Dave - this is such a pleasure to read, you have a real talent for writing. Thanks for contributing.
    Kay

  • Report Abuse

    TRAVELS IN GREECE – PART 3 (a) – Wonderful Loutro – The Crescent of Tavernas – Greek Taverna Gods from Conde Nast - Walking from Loutro to Sweetwater to Hora Sfakion past Naked Campers - The Hike up the Mountain and down the Aradena Gorge – Dead Goats Have No Predators - Off to Heraklion – Tourist Traps (no really!)

    This is a continuation of our Travelogue of our trip to Western Crete, (based in Chania and Loutro), Folegandros and Santorini in early May of this year. Please see Part 1(a) and (b) and Part 2(a)(b) and (c) for our earlier escapades and a description of who we are.

    IN THIS INSTALLMENT we discover the following truths:

    1. Goats have no natural predators in Crete, so if there is a dead goat at the bottom of the same, mostly-vertical, mountain path you are descending, chances are it died from a fall. In that case, it is best NOT to descend at the same rate that he did. (ie. don’t fall!)

    2. The dashing, swarthy, handsome Greek Taverna Owner your wife saw pictured in the Conde Naste article on Loutro actually has a brother so TWO Greek Gods serving your wife’s dinner will make you, a middle-aged lumpy, follicle-impaired Canadian geezer-of-a-husband, all but invisible in their presence.

    3. Naked people of all nationalities will ignore the sign that says “No Nude Bathing”.

    4. In mid-may the city of Heraklion apparently rolls up the welcome mat and rolls out the “Tourist Traps” – which are dozens of open holes in the sidewalk apparently designed to lure unwitting visitors into breaking their legs while stepping in such holes.

    5. The South-West coast of Crete, the Sfakia Region, is a beautiful, rugged, and unique part of Crete – and Loutro is a hidden secret apparently known only to some. We were lucky enough to find it.


    We awoke Tuesday morning to yet another day of spectacular Aegean sunshine and the sound of fighter jets streaking overhead from the nearby air force base. We quickly packed the rest of our things and with a big breath, we wrestled the first of our two overloaded suitcases down the stairs on the way to breakfast. Fortunately the stairs supported the weight. After breakfast we brought the second bag down the stairs, paid the bill and we were off to the bus station for the 8:30 bus to Hora Sfakion. It was a little difficult maneuvering the bags on the cobblestone, but we managed – with an occasional curse here and there.

    This time I remained conscious for the bus ride to Hora Sfakion and the drive was very enjoyable. Unlike the one on Sunday, our KTEL driver that Tuesday was a tad lighter on the gas pedal and a little more leisurely in negotiating the hairpin turns descending to the south coast so my backseat braking was unnecessary. We stopped at the top of the Imbros Gorge to let off a few hikers and continued on to the spectacular switchback descent to the port of Hora Sfakion.

    In planning our trip, we had spent some time deciding on the location for our second “base of operations” in Western Crete. We had been looking for a place where we could explore the back roads of Crete, do some hiking, and forgo the necessity of a car. I was intrigued by the descriptions of the Sfakia region. Land of the blood feuds, Sfakia was home to some of the toughest and proudest Cretan people. I had read the “Battle of Crete and the Resistance” by Antony Beevor and marveled at the resilience and bravery of the Cretan people during the German occupation. From the time of the German invasion in May of 1941 until the liberation in 1945 this stretch of the south coast we had spread out before us, had been the point of evacuation for thousands of allied troops and, afterwards, the Cretan resistance had hidden allied personnel, maintained lines of communications and supplies to North Africa and orchestrated strikes against the Germans all along this area. The nooks and crannies of the White Mountains and the south coast belonged to the people who had lived here for generations, making it difficult for the Germans to find and control the resistance fighters or the entry of intelligence officers.

    In contrast to this strength of valour I had also read of the fierce, stubborn blood feuds that had gone on for decades in the Sfakia region as families were violently pitted against families over often-forgotten arguments. The abandoned ghost town of Aradena is real-time proof-positive of the extreme effects of the blood-feuds. In Aradena, the story goes, an argument over a goat bell taken by a boy developed to the point where every family fled the town for fear of reprisals between the Greek equivalent of the “Hatfields and the McCoys”. To walk in this totally abandoned, and decaying, mountain village perched on the edge of a spectacular gorge is surreal.

    It was a back-issue of Conde Naste magazine that led us to decide upon Loutro. The travel writer described a charming, isolated, seaside village, without roads and vehicles, with warm hospitality, and both leisure and active options. From Loutro, hiking trails radiate in different directions on the map, leading to the Aradena Gorge, isolated beaches, and small mountain villages. Top-notch tavernas were, according to the magazine, lined up one after the other on the waterfront waiting to serve up great meals after long hot treks into the hillside. It was exactly what I was looking for. As for Kathy, it was the picture of the young, dashing, handsome Greek taverna owner jauntily leaning against the counter at one of the tavernas that cinched the deal for her. Hell, she decided, if good-looking Greek God-like “eye-candy”, like the guy in the magazine, would be serving her kebobs and moussaka and batting his thick dark lashes at her, no one had to twist HER arm.

    We arrived in Sfakion in time to do a bit of exploring, but the luggage hindered any chance to stray far from the dock, so we bought our ferry tickets and went down to sit on the rocks. That incredible turquoise and royal blue sea was sparkling in the sunshine. We saw our ferry, the trusty “Daskalogiannis” approaching from the west and before long the back door was descending and welcoming us aboard.

    There were no Samaria Gorge Zombies – it was too early in the morning and the latest batch of victims would only now be feeling their calves explode after the first three kilometers. We wouldn’t meet the hordes until Thursday when we would be back in Sfakion after our coastal walk from Loutro. However, as we walked towards the ferry it seemed that, Hagrid…..from Hogwarts…..as in Harry Potter…was there to take our ticket. No really….the massive guy was the spitting image of Hagrid! Almost. I mean, minus the cigarette dangling from his lip, and the massive belly and the oil stained t-shirt – and the fact that he was speaking Greek, I would have SWORN it was Harry Potter’s Hagrid in person. Kathy reluctantly agreed there was a resemblance, but more or less humoured me.

    Before long we were on deck with the wind in our face watching the coast go by on the short trip to Loutro. During the trip we again scouted out the hiking trail that was marked on our maps, extending from Loutro to Sweetwater beach, and then to Sfakion. The enormity of the steep mountainsides rising up from the sea made it difficult to accurately gauge the height of the trail as it ran along the coast, but we saw tiny specks of hikers on the trail and realized that near the end of the hike, if we were up to the challenge, there was a very interesting part of the trail hugging the cliff side. It looked like fun.

    Loutro in mid-May was somewhat quiet, only just waking up from its sleepy winter siesta in time for the new summer tourist season. There were a few fellow-travellers joining us, but the village, over the next three days, was peaceful and crowd free. We had booked at the Hotel Porto Loutro which has two separate hotels in the village, one of them near the waterfront, and the other up on the hillside on the west side. There was no one to greet us, so we wandered through the side-by-side Tavernas, to the seaside location where we eventually found the Lady of the House who ran the place with her husband. I asked which one we were booked in and she said “Take your pick”. We elected an ocean-front room up the hillside which was great. Ours was dead-center in the Hotel on the second floor. All the rooms in the neat and tidy whitewashed hotel were tiled, with air conditioning, a fridge, and a private balcony overlooking the bay and the comings and goings of Loutro. The bathroom was of the “Stuck-In-The-Corner Spartan Class” (see Part 1 above) and there was plenty of hot water. The hotel had a large common room/bar/lobby area which we did not visit. The best part, for us, was the expansive patio overlooking the sea and the hills, where we enjoyed the continental breakfast and heaps of Greek Yogurt, fruit and honey each morning. All-in-all, Porto Loutro was a great choice and we would recommend it to anyone who was “Loutro-bound”.

    We met the “Man of the House” when we returned to the wharf, and he kindly spared us the nightmare of hauling our suitcases up the stone stairs to the hotel by driving them in the tiny pick-up truck parked at the wharf, up the hillside and then up the stairs to our room. (We wondered what use the vehicle was in a village without roads, and realized later, that the owners, naturally, need the truck to haul supplies from the city, on the ferry, to Loutro.)

    We decided to relax and enjoy the day in “rest mode”. My calves were still tight and we decided a day of rest was in order before tackling the hiking trails. We made a quick trip to one of the two Mini Marts and grabbed some bottled water, a bag of honey and sesame covered nuts (love those things) a couple of Mythos beers, and, intrigued, I brought back two 350 ml plastic bottles of “Local Wine” bottled in recycled plastic. It turned out to be terrific wine, perfect for sipping on a balcony and a bargain at a Euro and a half.

    Early in the afternoon we went for a stroll along the waterfront to grab some lunch and scout out the points of departure up into the hills. On the way, we came across what had to be the ugliest chicken in Greece – not that I’m especially attuned to the aesthetics of poultry – but this chicken looked like it’s head had been through a leaf shredder and then pre-plucked. In addition to the butt-ugly chicken we discovered that Loutro seemed quite compact. Because the village is completely hemmed in by the mountain, and nestled against a steeply rising hillside, there is little area to expand and accordingly everything is within a stone’s throw of the waterfront. On both ends of the crescent, the side-by-side tavernas are lined up waiting for the visiting population to make their choice at meal time.

    We only (sadly) had time for four meals during our three day stay, and they were all exceptional. There didn’t seem to be any “bad” places to eat in Loutro. We picked NOSTOS that afternoon, which was interesting in that the proprietor left us the menu, a pencil, and a thin pad (that corresponded to the menu) where we checked off the dishes we wanted. This was also one of the infamous mis-translated English menus you encounter occasionally in Greece. We feel a bit bad snickering at the occasional quirky errors in translation, considering that Greek restaurant hospitality is so gracious and welcoming and the staff almost always multi-lingual. We passed over the “Steamed muscles” and feasted instead on warm fava, the always-perfect Greek salad, deep fried zucchini fritters and fried cheese rolls in phyllo pastry, washed down with some great local white house wine. We were the only ones on the terrace (since it was early mid-day) and we listened to the waves lapping on the shore, soaked in the sunshine, and sighed contented sighs.

    Afterwards, before returning to the hotel balcony (for more relaxing) we strolled out along the peninsula to some old ruin walls. We could see above Loutro on the small hill of the peninsula, the ruins of the Turkish fortress which seemed largely ignored. According to the history books, the fortress and Loutro harbour were used during the Dasakaloyannis rebellion (for which our ferry was apparently named) and the 1821 uprising against the Turks was declared in Loutro. Stretching high to the north, above Loutro, the mountainous hillside seemed to stretch forever, and like tiny ants, we could see hikers descending the switchback, obviously ending a day of hiking. Kathy graciously offered to massage my calves as we sat on the rock wall enjoying the view. We decided that we would postpone the “big hike” up the mountain and down the Aradena Gorge until Thursday, and take the more leisurely hike from Loutro to Sfakion the next day, (and take the ferry back to Loutro).

    The rest of the afternoon was spent sipping wine, reading and watching the occasional hiker switch-backing down the mountain. In the evening we descended the stone steps to the waterfront in the twilight as the lights on the bay sparkled to life, and darkness surrounded Loutro. We picked “THE BLUE HOUSE” for our first evening, reputed to be one of the “best of the best” of the Tavernas. The taverna was about half-full and the staff were friendly and cheery. It was a beautiful night as we sat by the sea. There was little wind, and we could hear the soft “shush-shushing” of the waves mixing with the conversations and slow-buzz of activity on the waterfront. The lights in the taverna seemed warm and cozy in the surrounding blackness of the hills and sea. We opted for some of the “classic” comfort foods for dinner – moussaka, huge tasty Greek meatballs, Gigantus beans in tomato sauce, and some chicken and bacon crepes. A litre of the red house wine rounded out the meal, followed by…. Greek coffees, baklava and the complimentary ice cold tskoudis/raki fire water.

    We stopped off to use the internet café before heading back to the room, to stay in touch with our daughters. By the time we finished it was just after ten, and the carpets were being rolled up around the bay. Loutro’s character, at least in May, was more like a sleepy summer camp, with “lights out at 10:00 Kids!” instead of a seaside party town. And that was just fine with us.

  • Report Abuse

    TRAVELS IN GREECE – Continued – PART 3(b)

    THE SOUTH COAST WALK, SWEETWATER BEACH AND NAKED CAMPERS

    The next morning, we opened the door to the balcony and let the sun come streaming in along with the melodic sounds of the tinkling and clanking of the goats on the hillside above Loutro. We took it easy, and planned to depart for Sfakion around 9:30 a.m. We read, enjoying breakfast on the terrace, opting to ‘mmmmmmm’ our way through some creamy Greek yogurt and honey on the side. With our hiking poles extended, and our daypacks stocked with water we headed off towards the east end of the village and found the path to the hiking trail. The goats were bleating in the paddock, and we walked through the gate and headed off to the east.

    The hike to Sweetwater beach and Sfakion is a fairly easy walk, with only the last kilometer or so being a little precipitous – to the extent that someone with vertigo might be a little unnerved. The first stretch of the walk was fairly level, with an easy undulating gentle grade, up and down, and up again, anywhere from 20 to maybe 150 feet above sea level. The path brought us down to a small rocky beach about halfway between Loutro and Sweetwater, and then rose again to a hillside where the isolated church of Agia Stavros is located above the sea. As we emerged over a little knoll the roof of the church came into view and beside it a “Kodak moment”: there were two wooly goats standing beside the church’s bell steeple. Out came the cameras and we spent the next few minutes snapping picture of the “locals”. As it turned out there were a few of the critters huddled around the church and judging from the copious quantities of goat poop in the immediate area, there were a large number of the “faithful” who had made the church their stomping grounds. At one point, Kathy was resting on a rock wall and engaged in a staring contest with three goats perched on the wall. The goats won.

    Shortly after the church, the path rose up and then descended to Sweetwater beach – a lovely isolated expanse of coarse sand and rocks completed surrounded by rising rock walls and accessible only by boat or entry from the walking path we were following. There was a little building used as a taverna in the summer for the tourists brought by boat to the beach – it wasn’t yet open for business. The rule against camping was obviously not enforced as a group of four naked people had tents pitched in an encampment on the beach and seemed quite settled in. We briefly explored the ruins of a church built into a rocky cave, but the discarded plastic bottles, broken plastic chairs, and various piece of plastic flotsam and jetsam spoiled the romantic notion that the faithful might have once made pilgrimage to this beach. The only good thing was that all the crap was hidden from view.

    We stopped to enjoy the beach briefly and sat by the water enjoying another of the “tiny” greek oranges. Just as before, the orange tasted like an orange on speed. Not just an ordinary North-American crafted, scientifically cultivated and artificially nurtured orange that looked great but lacked flavour. These were oranges as god intended oranges to taste.

    I dipped my feet in the Libyan sea just to say that I had done so. Kathy opted to keep her hiking shoes on. The water temperature was a tad “fresh” and my toes were soon numb. As I stood in the 8 inches of water gazing out to sea, I was a little surprised to see an older naked man cavorting in the water farther along the beach. One of the campers. As he emerged from the chilly water, he looked a little…..floopy….and pale. He seemed invigorated. Well maybe not all of him. The water WAS pretty cold.

    The path rose steeply from the Sweetwater beach to the most memorable part of our hike that day. The steep hillside quickly gave way to rocky outcroppings and cliffs and the trail was now obviously “carved” into the rock by craftsmen intent on preserving a route along the coast. In some cases the path was only a two or three feet in width, running along the cliff. Steps had been carved into some parts of the ascent. A misstep would be deadly, but for the most part it was more vertigo than anything. I went on ahead, at one point so that Kathy could take some pictures of me on the edge of the cliff and I could get some shots of her coming up the rocky path (we had two cameras). They were great photos and our friends and family were, I must say, a little impressed. The one shot that didn’t work was the one where Kathy was standing under this unique outcropping of pink nettles and thistles. I tried to get her to smile but all I got was abject fear since she was hugging the wall for dear life staring at the edge of the cliff that plunged hundreds of feet to the sea.

    The last stretch of the route was a little bit of a let-down as the trail emerged onto a paved switchback road leading up from Hora Sfakion. It was also partly under construction. We were hot and a little dusty as we descended into Hora Sfakion and found one of the Tavernas on the waterfront called LIVIKON. We had about two hours before the ferry back to Loutro, so we relaxed with a litre of water and a litre of wine that Kathy declared, tasted “Almost like Freshie” it was so refreshing. We got a chance to try “Borecki” which was a great egg, potato zucchini and cheese pie – like a super-sized quiche, only better. Slow roasted lamb was on the menu with potatoes. Followed by a cake dubbed: “Too Much Honey” cake. You can never have too much Greek honey on anything, we declared. It was awesome.

    We returned on the ferry, happy and content, having enjoyed a terrific day and a terrific extended lunch. I’ve already recounted to you, our encounter with the Samaria Gorge Zombies on our way back.

    Back in Loutro, we did more heavy-duty relaxing on the balcony and headed out to ILIAS for dinner. By this time, I had forgotten about the Conde Naste Greek God of Loutro. But there he was, in all his glory, just like the magazine. He had apparently shaved for the Conde Naste people. Turns out – he has a brother…who, according to Kathy’s wry observation, “got the good looks in the family”. He was there too, escorting us to our table and helping me pick out the fresh fish of the day for our dinner, and oozing hairy machismo. I couldn’t help but razz Kathy that it was unlikely that I was to receive any attention for the remainder of the evening now that she had two swarthy Greek men oozing Mediterranean testosterone serving her meal, (beside whom the balding, graying middle-aged, pasty-white wimpy Canadian husband paled in comparison). She assured me I had nothing to fear, but I kept her close. I felt all the more inadequate in my soft yuppie identity when the “ugly” brother jauntily jumped aboard the skiff tied up beside the taverna, brought the motor to a roar with a mighty pull of the outboard, and sailed away into the night like some sea-faring Greek captain. “Sigh”, said I.

    Once again, the Tavernas quickly wrapped things up, and quiet descended on Loutro. By the time we got up to the hotel it was deathly still and it seemed that we had missed curfew and were almost the last ones to bed in the rockin’ and rollin’ town of Loutro. We were out cold in no time ready for the “Big Hike” to the Aradena Gorge the next day. The only Macho Man Kathy would see tomorrow would be me leaping tall mountain peaks with a single bound! Hah!

    UP THE MOUNTAIN, DOWN THE GORGE, OVER THE DEAT GOATS, PAST THE BEACH AND STRAIGHT ON TO LOUTRO.

    I jumped out of bed, threw open the door and stepped out into the growing light of morning to size up my opponent. There it loomed above Loutro– all 2,150 feet of brown, craggy rock towering above my middle-aged body. It taunted me. Challenging my calves and knees to an ascent that would be only the starting point of a twenty-two kilometer trek that would take us up the mountain, across to Aradena, down the mighty Gorge to Maramara beach, and then east along the coast, over the peninsula and back to Loutro.

    “Hah!” I spat derisively. I had done Samaria, and lived to tell the tale. This would be a piece of cake, thought I with great bravado. Realizing that my morning balcony scene was being enacted in my skivvies, I retreated into the room to get dressed, wake Kathy and get organized for the day’s hike.

    We had decided to start the hike with the 1 ½ hour climb first and go down the Gorge rather than reverse, thinking that at the end of the roughly 22 km hike, we would not be wanting a steep descent (memories of Samaria lingered). After a quick breakfast we headed back behind the village but instead of heading east along the coastal trail we hung a left and headed up the mountain. It was aerobically challenging and invigorating, but spectacular. With each switchback, Loutro became smaller and smaller, and the panoramic views of the south coast of Crete to the west and east, came into view. It was awesome. The island of Gavdos was visible. It was a gorgeous day. Except for the occasional goat, and fellow hiker, we felt like we had the island of Crete to ourselves on the climb. We were doing the switch-back on an angle heading north-east.

    As we approached the top we emerged along a dirt road, large numbers of goats and sheep, and a rather ferocious looking dog that was fortunately penned. Soon we were walking a paved, winding road through the sleepy village of Anapolis. Ahead, in the distance loomed the massive towering White Mountains, which seemed to make the 2,100 foot “mini-mountain” we had just climb seem rather inconsequential. We somehow missed the shortcut off the paved road to Aradena, which was no real hardship except that we were on paved roads. The cicadas were serenading us with their rhythmic buzzing and we fell into step with the click-clicking of our trekking poles. Just before the bridge across the Aradena Gorge we came across a Greek gentleman parked on the side of the road. He greeted us, asked us where we were from and chatted about the area. He was from Rethmynon and was out for the day, on his way to the beach. He pointed up to the peaks of the White Mountains and said that if we really wanted to enjoy the scenery of Greece, we should drive up into the mountains. If only we had time.

    Just around the bend the earth just seemed to plummet away into a rocky chasm of astonishing depth. I’ve described the Aradhena Gorge as a “gash in the earth” and it looks especially so from the water looking north. Here were were, on the beginning edge of that great gash! The Aradena Gorge strikes north from Marmara beach and then jogs inland east and then north up to where the abandoned village of Aradena is perched on the north edge of the Gorge. In days gone by, the industrious Sfakions had created this very steep switchback trail down the south side of the Gorge and back up the north side of the Gorge for access. A few years back some kind ex-pats had donated a steel bailey bridge across the Gorge to the abandoned village on the north side. As we crossed the bridge, the wind howled, and although there were very large size timbers lining the bed of the bridge, it wasn’t the timbers that caught your attention – it was the gaps in between that you noticed – and the 300 feet, or so, of nothingness below. Halfway across the views to the west and east, and straight down, were both breathtaking and unnerving. It was hard to believe that during the summer months, there were people voluntarily jumping off this bridge within nothing more than a large elasticky rope tied to their legs. I supposed this was Bungee Jumping, Sfakia Style.

    On the other side of the bridge, at the entry point into the ghost-town of Aradena was a small canteen selling drinks and a few assorted food offerings. We decided to take a break and were so glad we did. We ordered up a couple of Fantas, another litre of water and two Sfakia Pies – which are large warmed crepes stuffed with the creamy myzithra cheese and sugar and smothered in honey. Out here, in the middle of no-where I expected a rather limited version but this self-respecting Cretan served a full sized version that tasted wonderful. We wolfed them down sitting on a picnic table in the shade. Every so often my heart exploded and I went airborne as small vehicles thundered over the timbers of the bailey bridge, scaring the crap out of me. Yikes.

    We went off to explore the abandoned village which was fascinating. Aradana is now little more than a mixed jumble of crumbling stone walls, roof tiles, twisted concrete, faded wooden doors and shutters and wrought-iron fencing. Here and there wildflowers poked out from walls and cracks. A few buildings seemed to be intact, but were padlocked and deserted. It all looked so forlorn in the bright sunshine. The views were spectacular – white topped mountain peaks stretched away to the north against a blue sky, and to the south the natural wonder of one of Crete’s mighty gorges was literally at their doorstep. And yet there was no one here to enjoy any of it – it was wasted. Abandoned, isolated and utterly forgotten except for the curious tourists. I felt like I was trespassing upon someone’s misery in the aftermath of a natural disaster and that they might come home at any time and wonder why these Canadians were standing in what was once their kitchen.

    In the middle of the village, tucked against the cliffside, was a pretty little stone church with a red-tiled roof, within a fenced courtyard. I wondered who came to church here anymore. After each wandering in our own direction, we met back at the road and decided it would be best to move on, since it was already mid day and we had much more trekking ahead. The question whether we were going to do the entire Gorge down to the sea or opt for the alternate route down the road and across the hillsides to access the Gorge near the small village of Livaniana located on the east side of the Gorge about half-way down. We had read that there were a few parts of the upper section of the Gorge that were a bit challenging, so we opted for striking across the road and hills to Livaniana.

    We re-crossed the bridge and followed the road towards the village. It was a bit longer trek than we anticipated but we emerged high on the hillside overlooking the southwest coast. The paved switchback road curved back and forth and from this vantage point we could see where the trail went off from the road and down to the village. Over an hour later, when we veered off the roadway, we could now appreciate that we still had a fair distance to go just to get to Livaniana where the trail would descend to the bottom of the Aradena Gorge. This was where we really appreciated those uber-hikers who have blazed the hiking trails in places like this by dabbing small spots of paint at regular intervals. From high above, the trail had been easily visible but now, walking amongst the scrag, thyme bushes and rocks it was more difficult to “pick-the-path”. Soon we got the hang of following the Blue Dots. It became a game as to who could find the dot. And reliably, each time you got to one dot, the trailblazers had cleverly made sure you were within sight distance of the next blue dot. And so it went.

    continued....

  • Report Abuse

    TRAVELS IN GREECE – Continued – PART 3(c)

    Suddenly, there was a drop and we were soon navigating a somewhat more challenging section with some dicey drops in elevations along the rock faces. Sections had obviously been carved out of the rock with the artful placement of stacks of boulders and stones. It was steep. As in….”Gulp” steep. I was in the lead, and came round a little corner to see a bit of a challenging descent. (Remember these are two middle-aged Canucks from the Hudson Bay Lowlands, exploring their “wild adventurous side” whose routine included coming home from the gym to jump on the couch and cheer on the contestants in the Elimination Challenge on “Survivor”. I stopped.

    The exchange went something like this:

    Kathy: “What is it?”
    Me: “Ummmmmm….”
    Kathy: “Is this not the way down?”
    Me: “Oh it’s the way down alright”
    Kathy: “And…”
    Me: “There’s a dead goat at the bottom”
    Kathy: “Goats don’t have natural predators in Greece do they?”
    Me: “I don’t think so”
    Kathy: “That means the goat fell”
    Me: “Yup”
    Kathy: “A Mountain Goat, lost it’s footing and fell down the path WE are going down?”
    Me: “Yup”
    Kathy: “And that’s the only way down right?”
    Me: “Yup”

    And away we went. Carefully. Slowly. Me worried about Kathy. Kathy worried about me. Both of us eyeing the dead goat at the bottom. It really wasn’t so bad, just a bit unnerving. We concluded that the Goat had been some kind of Evil-KaNeevel-Goat, taking silly chances. Or maybe he had just given up on life. Packed it in and left a note.

    The trail didn’t bring is into Livaniana and instead we veered around back and down into the Gorge. We had another Orange Break. (If this is Crete, and we’re on a hike, it MUST be time for an Orange!!!) The descent was a blast. We stumbled onto the floor of the Gorge and began walking to the sea. It was a Buzz!!! Literally. There were a million bees buzzing and the drone reverberated in the depths of the canyon with a deep resonating hum. So THIS explained the plentiful supply of the Cretan honey! We were completely alone. We were all alone….except for the dozens of bleating and crying goats, whose pitiful wails echoed off the walls. One little bugger was stuck up on the rock face and it was impossible to see how he had even got up to his perch. He seemed to be yelling at us, giving us heck for intruding onto his turf. The goats weren’t at all skittish and most eyed us with looks of boredom. Huge swaths of pink flowers cascaded in thick blankets or formed canopies over our head. Massive boulders were scattered on the Gorge floor, but the path zigged and zagged around the rock falls. We eventually met the only other people we encountered in the Gorge that day, travelling in the opposite direction. They seemed equally as awestruck with the beauty of the place and we smiled and compared notes briefly on what was ahead. Amidst all of this, we could hardly ignore the massive rock walls soaring straight up to the sky on either side. It was quite different from the Samaria Gorge because of the plentiful sights and sounds of the goats and bees and birds, the comparatively lush vegetation, the cool shade, and the changing landscape of rocks and boulders. The lower end of Samaria is certainly equally as awe-inspiring and humbling with the “Gates” of stone, but relatively barren by comparison to the Aradena Gorge.

    It was a great afternoon. We eventually stumbled on to the approach to Marmara beach. We agreed that this final part of this Gorge walk was also much nicer than Samaria (where the last stretch had been a tedious walk along a hot tarmac road). The tiny beach at Marmara is bounded by steep rock sides to the west and east. Here you can “catch” the coastal path that runs from Sfakion westwards to Loutro and on to Agia Roumeli. There were about 15 to 20 people at Marmara beach, sunning and swimming. Up on the cliff, overlooking the beach, is a very pleasant Taverna that seemed to be just opening up. We were in need of water refills, so I left Kathy to climb up on the east side, ready to continue our trek along the coast and back to Loutro, and I climbed up the west side to the Taverna. The enterprising Taverna owners had carved a set of steep steps up to the Taverna. It was very nice and if we had the time, it would have been a great place to enjoy a two hour mid-afternoon stretch of mezes and wine. It was not in the cards however, and I shudder to think how a hiker would navigate the route with ANY amount of alcohol affecting their balance.

    From the vantage point of the Taverna I could see down to the three naked ladies lounging just below the sign prohibiting Nude Bathing. I would have liked to have taken a picture for the comic irony of it, but likely they, and Kathy, would have disapproved.

    We continued on along the coast which turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than we expected. We still had about 7 kilometers to go along the coast, over the peninsula hill and back down the other side to Loutro Bay. We were beginning to tire. We were both soaked in sweat and the sun was beating down. The trail was a bit dicey in places, on a steep angle, a hundred feet or so above crashing rocky surf. Eventually there was another rather steep descent down to the beach near the little group of buildings forming the hamlet of Phoenix and as we came to the top of the path there was…..

    ….another dead goat. Okay, this was getting a bit ridiculous. How crazy were these Sfakia Goats!!! Had some of these goats been skipping out on Mom’s lessons on “Goat Safety 101?”. With a deep breath we climbed down, fortified somewhat by the two French hikers that whizzed by us with little hesitation. We were off in the direction of Loutro, cognizant of the fact that before we could go down to Loutro, and the cold Mythos beer waiting for me, we had to go UP the top of the hill. We got a little misdirected and ended up in someone’s yard, but a nice fellow sent us in the right direction. We were soon rising up above Loutro and walking past a Turkish fortified castle. While it would have been nice to stop and appreciate this bit of “modern” history (considering that the original castle was being built the year before Canada decided to become a country in 1867!!!) we were just too pooped. As we walked down the steps into Loutro, we were welcomed by the ugly chicken, whose looks had not improved in the past two days.

    Before long we were washing away the sweat and dust, showering side by side, in an effort to maximize the hot water and minimize the time before we would be sitting down to enjoy a long relaxing dinner. In the course of doing so we managed to drench every square inch of the bathroom, and it’s belongings, including the toilet located inches away from the open shower, and all towels capable of being used to dry off.

    Dinner that evening was a celebration of an accomplishment. Twenty-two kilometers, and mountain paths that challenged even frisky goats had been mastered by two amateur trekkers. We were proud. We had our last Loutro meal under yet another perfect starry sky at PAVLOS (Paul’s) where the grilled meats are the specialty. This included some grilled goat – no doubt picked from the bottom of the nearest cliff. Pavlos himself was presiding that evening – a distinguished bearded gentleman easily identified as the modest fellow pictured on his own home-bottled, and complimentary tskoudis. It was smooth and soothing.

    After stopping for a quick email to our daughters, we stumbled back to the room in the now familiar evening wind-down of Loutro. I lasted about five nano-seconds longer than Kathy and we were soon both happily mimicking the buzzing drone of the Adradena Gorge army of bees.

    A DAY IN HERAKLION – TOURIST TRAPS

    We had planned on heading out on the early boat to Hora Sfakion so we could connect by bus to Heraklion in time to take in Knosssos. It was not to be. Inasmuch as some good ancient history and a bit o’ Minotaur would have been some good intellectual stimulation, rushing to Heraklion would also have meant cutting short our time in Loutro by even a few hours. It was (as always) a beautiful morning so we enjoyed our last breakfast on the terrace. Across to the east, the early morning light created a perfect frame for the layers of hills along the coast and we got some great pictures.

    We were soon off to the ferry and once again, the owners kindly offered to bring our suitcases down to the dock by pick-up truck. Greek “Hagrid” was there to greet us again as we boarded and we watched Loutro recede into the distance as we steamed towards Chora Sfakion.

    The wait for the bus was a little longer than expected but it turned out that it was possible to make a connection to an express buss to Heraklion at the small town of Vryses. (We had thought we would have to go back to Chania, which would have meant back-tracking to Heraklion). While waiting for the Heraklion bus in Vryses we sat and people-watched at the café taking in the comings and goings at a tiny Greek gas station across the street and the constant flow of people to the four or five cafes and tavernas and small shops all within a stones throw of the busy little intersection in the middle of this busy little cross-roads town. Children and teenagers were everywhere in school uniforms obviously let out from their studies. In our own little town of 5,000 people in Northern Ontario, which is buried beneath heaps of snow and frozen solid for at least six months of the year, we hide indoors and interact socially mostly in warm indoor spaces wherever possible, democratically sharing the latest flu bugs with each other. I wondered how much more healthy the social life must be in a Greek village such as this, where the warm weather, and taverna and café culture encourages family life to be lived and shared out in the open. Unless we win the lottery, we’ll never know.

    The rest of the bus trip to Heraklion, along the north coast, was uneventful. We got a brief glimpse of Rethmynon and the long stretches of villas, hotels, timeshares, resorts and heavily advanced commercial development that we had read about, and purposely avoided by staying in Chania and Western Crete. The bus was filled with university students heading home to Heraklion, and the discussions were quite animated.

    I had imagined Heraklion would be like Athens, as the largest and busiest city on the island. It was indeed busy, and traffic congested, and a very active city, much like Athens. However, most of the place seemed to be under construction, and there were few streets that didn’t seem to have some curb, surface, sign, wall, post or piece ripped up or under construction. The stone tiled sidewalks and pedestrian walk-ways were filled with missing tiles, making walking extremely hazardous and dangerous. Sight-seeing while walking on the streets meant risking an extremely bad fall if you stepped into one of dozens of holes in the sidewalk. At one point Kathy was fortunately watching out for me as I narrowly missed plunging into a meter-by-meter square hole that was at least a foot deep. There were no posts or protective fences. These multiple holes were, in essence, the perfect Tourist Trap. Perhaps May is Rehab Month in Heraklion, but it made for a poor impression of Crete’s capital city.

    Also making a poor impression was the graffiti. It seemed to be everywhere, marring the surfaces of what would have been beautiful historic buildings with ugly, unsightly (and sometimes disgusting) vocabulary scars. We stopped in to see the Cathedral, with it’s ornate decorations, chandeliers, and frescos. It was beautiful. Beside it, the tiny medieval church of Ayios Minas had scrawled on its back wall, the ugly marks of vandals. I’m not a fan of graffiti in any location, but destroying the aesthetics of buildings which are a part of a country’s heritage and history seems inexcusable.

    We one day want to return to Crete and would definitely go back to Heraklion to see Konossos and the Archaeological Museum. However, there are so many other places to visit in Crete and the Greek Islands, we agreed that Heraklion didn’t warrant much more attention than that.

    We headed down to the waterfront, to a small square adjacent to the Historical Museum where we found a quiet seafood Taverna with good fresh fish laid out on shaved ice and decided that we weren’t in the mood for exploring the city much further than we had already. We relaxed away the afternoon with an “interesting” tableside view of a young Greek couple that were so much into each other (and on each other, and under each other….), they seemed just short of going carnal on the tabletop! This was the one-and-only time we’d seen somewhat “overly-excited” (and inappropriate) displays of affection in public in Greece.

    Our itinerary had us on the 9:45 a.m. High Speed ferry to Santorini the next day, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. We had picked the Lato Boutique Hotel, partly because of its proximity to the Bus Station and Ferry Terminal. That alone makes it an excellent choice for anyone passing through Heraklion by ferry. The hotel has a very modern European air, designed with sleek wood, glass, steel and chrome design. The rooms are very simple, fairly small, and very comfortable. Our balcony overlooked the Venetian Fortress and I sat for a while watching the constant hub-bub of traffic in the congested streets. The beds were comfortable, there was lots of hot water, and the feather and cotton sheets and duvets were a treat. There was also a TV in the room and we watched television for the first time in over a week. There was lots of coverage of “Eurovision” that interesting battle of the music stars from around Europe. The Greek participants, it seemed, were doing well. We even had a Greek porn channel! The picture was blocked, but it was immediately clear that porn moans are universal in any language.

    Breakfast the next morning was exceptional and obviously went above and beyond the ordinary Greek morning offerings. There were a large number of German and Swiss guests as well as Greek businessmen and families. The buffet was enormous with all manner of pastries, cereals, juices, jams, yogurt, eggs, bacon, waffles, fresh fruit, and lots of everything. Overall, the Lato Boutique was a great hotel, especially for our purposes as a stopover.

    We were soon at the front door waiting for the taxi. We were off for the next half of our vacation. A brief stopover in Santorini and then on to Folegandros.


    FINAL INSTALLMENT – A day in Oia - Off to Folegandros, the Best Converted Penal Colony in the Mediterranean – Amazing Anemomilos Apartments – More Great Meals and Folegandros Freshie – One Last Hike. Back to Santorini…and Torrential Rains. Home and some Thoughts.

  • Report Abuse

    Splendid, every word of Part II!! It took me back to the Loutro walk and Kathy's "look of fear" whilst staring down a sheer cliffside to the water. Also confirmed our decision not to try the Aradena... or you probably would have found the bleached bones of a Connecticut woman lying beside that goat.

    Cannot wait for your take on Folegandros and Santorini -- I'm guessing that, with Western Crete scenery for comparison, u will not react like so many visitors to Santorini (and ONLY Santorini) who say it's the most beautiful Greek isle. It's lovely I grant u, but Crete and others are the places that draw you back again.

    BTW, just got back from a visit to Vancouver Island, and now understand why Canada is leaning heavily to the West, under the weight of umpty-thousand Canadians who are wanting to move there!

  • Report Abuse

    Yipper:

    Funny you should ask...I'm actually just in the process of setting up a set of pictures go go along with the trip report on Flickr. Was going to do that before posting the last section on Santorini and Folegandros.

    Dave

50 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.

Advertisement