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1,000,001 Steps: Ups and Downs in Greece for 3 Weeks

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Oct 22nd, 2014, 08:46 AM
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1,000,001 Steps: Ups and Downs in Greece for 3 Weeks

We started planning a trip to Greece in 2009 but did not go through with it for many reasons which included our continued love affair with Spain. Last year we started planning again and I was looking for something adventurous to celebrate my 45th birthday and new level of fitness (and hoping to get DH to improve his level of fitness as well). I decided (please note the use of singular) I wanted to hike down to the Grand Canyon. After a few months of trying I managed to get a 2 night reservation for a 4 person cabin in the beginning of July in Phantom Ranch. Score!! Or so I thought.

Let’s just say that the joyous news were not received with much enthusiasm at home. DH was not quite saying he did not want to do it but it was obvious he was just going along with the plan. Bottom line was that a few weeks afterwards he said, ‘Why don’t we go somewhere else instead? Weren't you planning a trip to Greece a couple of years ago?’. Whoa… GREECE! A million lightbulbs switched on simultaneously in my head. Oh yes. Needless to say, cancellations were made the next day.

And so, the planning started. I usually plan our trips for almost a year and I only had a few months. I dove into the Fodor’s archives. There seemed to be an obvious gap between 20010 and 2014 in Greek Trip Reports. I guess that the financial crisis and well-publicized protests deterred lots of folks from visiting the country for a while. I will only say to them: your loss.

After dozens of iterations and tons of help from the ‘Greece Regulars’ in Fodor’s, I finally decided on a plan for our 3-week vacation:

- Fly into Chania, Crete
- Ferry to Santorini
- Fly back to Athens and pickup rental car
- Road trip around the Peloponnese (Nafplio, Monemvasia, Aeropolis, etc.)
- Visit Delphi and the Meteora Monasteries
- Spend the last few days in Athens

This might seem crazy and hurried to a lot of people but it suited us perfectly. I guess I should give some more info on us and our travel style to put this in perspective:

- DH is retired, Swiss born, in his late 60’s and, most importantly, loves to drive through spectacular scenery. He is not intimidated by hairpin turns and 1,000 meter vertical drops. How he manages to actually drive and notice things is beyond me. I would say that his fitness level is a little over average but aside from our Sunday morning 4-mile walk at a good pace and physical labor around the house, he does not exercise regularly.

- I’m in my mid 40’s (yes, there is an age difference in there, it works great, so get over it.), I’m Puertorrican, I work full time at a rather stressful/ currently unfulfilling job, I do go to the gym and have picked up running over the last 2 years. And to my everlasting shame, I don’t know how to drive with a manual transmission. I'm also the travel planner.

- We are mid/low budget travelers. We strive for value. We seldom return to the hotel during the day so it really doesn't make sense to spend big bucks in a luxurious room. We eat breakfast but usually skip lunch or just have a few snacks. We do not eat desserts. We love, love, love to sit down in cafes and people watch with a glass of wine (or more). Food is very important to us.

Getting There – September 26-27

Living on an island, getting anywhere requires at least a 3hr flight, but getting to Greece seems not to easy from anywhere. Search engines consistently returned 0 results for San Juan to Chania or Heraklion. So we finally opted for a round trip to Athens and then purchased the other flights separately.

I had not flown with Delta for quite a while and was pleasantly surprised with the plane itself and the level of service. We had a 6hr layover in Athens so we scouted out the metro but chickened out of venturing into Athens. We purchased our Heraklion-Santorini ferry tickets at the travel agent and basically stoically endured the wait.

The flight was a bit bumpy but the views as we flew into Crete were quite nice. In less than an hour after landing we were seated in the taxi. And what a taxi ride it was. Wow. Trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles were coming from all sides. The kid driving the taxi kept playing around with his GPS trying to find the hotel.

The adrenaline finally broke through the foggy walls of my jet lagged brain and I realized that I had instructions on how to get to the hotel as it is located in the pedestrian area of the town. We got dropped off in the square and pointed in the direction of the hotel. This route involved more than one flight of stairs through the crowded streets carrying luggage, it was only later that I realized that their instructions were for a much easier route.
Almost 36 hours after departing from home we arrived at Palazzo Ducca tired, jet lagged and hungry. This combination is usually not a great mood enhancer but the warm welcome and pretty room soon improved the energy and enthusiasm levels.

http://www.palazzoduca.gr/

We dropped our bags, and headed out to explore (really trudge along) and (mainly) prevent ourselves from taking a nap that would result in prolonging the jet lag recovery period. The temperature was in the mid 50’s and the wind was blowing so hard that most of the harbor waterfront restaurants had just given up and closed. The Venetian harbor was just like Venice in acqua alta. Flooded. And waves on top of it.

We found a café out of the wind and sat under the nice heater for our first glass of Cretan red. We entertained ourselves people watching but our energy level was on a steady decline. It was time to give up, get an early dinner and go to bed.

The hotel was close to a restaurant that had been recommended in Matt Barret’s website (http://www.greecetravel.com/ which BTW is a great resource) and decided to give it a try. It was packed but we only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table.

Knowing that we were not at our best we kept our expectations low. But Tamam was awesome. We shared a delicious and perfectly dressed salad, DH had lamb in a tomato sauce served the flat bread and I had a similar rice but with the most delicious, smooth and rich eggplant puree ever. Complimentary raki and small portions of a moist semolina cake with a very sophisticated taste were given. Though we don’t usually eat desserts, we actually ate the whole thing. And drank the raki.

We returned to our hotel and were asleep within minutes of laying on our very comfortable beds.

Next: Relaxing for a day before the big hike or it's all downhill from here now.
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 09:04 AM
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That transatlantic flight can really be tough but once you get to Greece it is worth it. Chania is one of my favourite cities. Looking forward to the next installment.
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 09:53 AM
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Count me in!
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 10:03 AM
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So glad I found this trip report. Looking forward to more!
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 10:14 AM
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I am so sorry we didn't coordinate better, so close.....
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 01:25 PM
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Grand Canyon or Greece? Yes, you made the right choice.

It would appear that a lot of us went to Greece this year.

Ian
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 02:24 PM
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Debbie, I know!!!! I lol when I saw the picture of the wool carder. We were there just hours before too!

Ian, yes! And it makes me happy that it is picking back up as a destination. The country is gorgeous and the people are just amazing.
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 02:28 PM
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Day 2 – September 28th: Chania

After a night of intermittent sleep (afterwards I figured out that raki is really not good for my sleep) we finally rolled out of bed around 10:00am. After many travel blunders I have learned over the years not to plan anything too aggressive on the post-arrival day, so there was not much in the daily schedule.

We sat in an outside café to have our coffees and lazily watched the progression of the world. It was warmer than the day before but the wind was still blowing hard. The waterfront cafes were still having a hard time as the waves would splash the people walking by and even sprinkling a bit over their wind guards.

We spent the day just moseying around the hundreds of stores in the pedestrian area in between plunking down in restaurants. Coffees were followed by beer and beer was followed by white wines. We decided not to walk to the lighthouse because the waves were too strong but we did go up to the little fortress hill.

Chania is just delightful. Incredibly photogenic yet very atmospheric. We both loved just being there.

I never really got around to figure out how to do this on our own so we went by a travel agent and bought tickets for a ‘tour’ to Samaria Gorge for the next day, though it was quite unclear if the wind would allow the ferry at the end to sail.

For dinner we went to a hotel recommendation, Chrisostomos. This is a place you are not very likely to walk by as it is in the outskirts of the tourist area and it is not huge. It was just around 8:00PM and we got the last available table. They had reservations for the rest of the evening. They are known for their roasted dishes and they lived up to their reputation 100%. The first house wine we had was barely drinkable but when we told them we did not like it they brought out a delightful Cretan red.

Presentation is not their thing, but they certainly deliver in execution. The tomato salad was an ode to simplicity and the beauty of ingredients. Their bread basket was quite good. But I cannot say enough about the roasted lamb and lemon potatoes. They did not look like much on the plate but finesse of seasoning and roasting technique were clearly present. Though we had the same dish again in other places, none were better than theirs.

Complimentary raki and desserts were offered and consumed. The tab was under 40€. Superb value.

We bought some sandwiches to pack for our lunch tomorrow and happily crashed in our comfy bed.


Day 3 – September 29th: Samaria Gorge

There are many things I would do different if I had a chance to repeat this day but first I’ll tell how it actually happened.

For those unfamiliar with it , the Samaria Gorge is a 13Km hike through a very scenic national park. You start up in the village of Omalos and descend 1,250m to the village of Agia Roumeli (3Km further away from the park exit). From there you must go by ferry to Sougia or Sfakia where there are buses to take you back to your point of origin.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samari%C3%A1_Gorge

We walked the empty streets of Chania at the ungodly hour of 5:30am to the place where we were supposed to meet the tour bus. We had a coffee at Everest, a somewhat Subway-like chain present throughout Greece. The bus arrived at 5:59 and the guide told us that it was still not certain if the ferry would sail.

We would only know when we got to Omalos and the park people would then decide with the ferry people if we were allowed to go in. If not, we would then be bused to a different gorge where we would hike for a few hours. We were not crazy about Plan B. The wind was really blowing but after a little hesitation we decided to give it a try.

I don’t get carsick (or seasick) easily but those curves, at top speed, in the complete pre-dawn darkness in a stuffy bus had me worried for a while, I was definitely queasy. The girl seating next to us was decidedly an alarming shade of green.

We got to Omalos and the guide went to ask if we would be allowed to enter, he told us he thought it was unlikely. But to his great surprise, we got a go!

It was still pre dawn and cold (upper 40’s) and windy. Some of people in this group were slightly unprepared and others were completely unprepared. Three young Spanish kids were in shorts. The guide handed out hiking poles and a few pieces of extra clothing. He repeated many times the latest hour that we should arrive at each of the three checkpoints and the final meeting point.

Formalities concluded, we set off. Downhill. As in straight down. As in down a 3Km long stair. With uneven steps and slippery rocks. The kind of terrain where you cannot go down and look at the scenery. Now, I knew the elevation change but I had not really visualized the actual profile of this descent. Most of the 1250m is lost on those first kilometers.

What disappointed me during this part of the hike was that although the view of the gorge was nice, it was not really spectacular. You only see the evergreen forest as it plunges down the ravine and once in a while you catch a glimpse of the riverbed waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down below.

Though I am a strong walker I am not a confident ‘stepper’ so even with my trusty hiking poles it was a bit stressful for me and made for very slow progress. Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty but IMHO, this section is just not worth the effort unless you just want the ‘bragging rights’..

To make matters worse, DH started feeling his knees around 2.5Km into the hike. We continued slowly ahead without worrying too much about our pace as we knew that some of the group members were still behind us. The guide showed up around the 4Km mark and told us we should pick up the pace a bit. We were now the last in the group as he had sent back everyone behind us.

By the time we made it to the 6Km mark DH’s knees, which had never, ever been a problem before, were decidedly hurting. And we still had 9Kms to go in the park and 3 more to the village. Turning back was not an option as it would have involved the CLIMBING of all those steps. No way but forward.

Thankfully two things happen around that marker, although the path never really gets flat and remains rugged until the very end, it is not as steep and the truly scenic part of the hike starts as soon as you get near the riverbed.

We did pick up the pace as I was worried about DH’s knees and sometimes it is better in injury management to opt to finish as soon as possible over reducing impact. We did not finish last.

To make the long story short(er), we managed to get to the end of the park and still somewhat enjoy the magnificent views of the narrow gorge. It still took us 6 hours to make it down. We opted to pay the 2€ bus to shuttle us the 3km between park and village. This is a smart choice even without injury as it is not scenic at all.

We plunked down around 2:45pm in the meeting point restaurant and the guide got some ice packs for DH as well as some anti-inflammatory ointment (regular strength Voltaren requires a prescription in the US and extra strength is OTC is Europe, go figure).

Most of the groups were relaxing on the beach but it was too cold for us Caribbean folks so we just stayed in the restaurant until the ferry tickets were handed out. The boat ride to Sougia was very pretty and from there we picked up the tour bus back to Chania.

No one got really queasy since most just slept the whole way. Back in Chania we stopped in the pharmacy to get some Voltaren, dropped the things in the hotel and opted for dinner at the restaurant next door.

We shared a plate of fried calamari (decent) , DH had pork souvlaki (good) and I had a warm Pasticcio (lets go with forgettable to be kind). Hot showers and sleep promptly followed.

What I Would Do Now That I Know Better

Hindsight is 20/20 so this is what I would do on the very unlikely chance that we go to Samaria again:

- Skip the tour and go on our own, the time pressure was completely unnecessary though somewhat understandable
- Although it would be a longer hike and a back and forth the same way I would start in Agia Roumeli and hike INTO the gorge as far as where the path joins the riverbed. This way you get all the views without the killer descent.

Next: Have I just messed the rest of our vacation?
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Oct 22nd, 2014, 02:46 PM
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Great report so far. We loved our trip to Greece and are glad to see everyone else enjoying their trips as well. Excellent information on the hike--I'm filing that for our someday visit to Crete.
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 03:41 AM
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Enjoying your report! I hate to say it, but I think the weather got better after you were there. I think we were a week or so behind you, and it was pretty nice overall.
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 05:00 AM
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marigross

Your description of the gorge walk makes me so glad that we didn't attempt it. With my trick knee (down is the worst) and my wife's fear of slipping and falling . . . yes, I am glad we passed. Thanks for the honesty.

Ian
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 05:14 AM
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((Waiting to hear if 800 of your steps were up to the castle above Nafplio.))
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 05:16 AM
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Thanks for the report Marigross. Enjoying it, and we were also in Chania this year! Haven't done the Samaria Gorge yet although it is on the list for the future, and thanks for the honest and informative account of your hike there. I would not quite have been expecting that, and forewarned is forearmed... Jane
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 05:55 AM
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Enjoying your report as it brought back memories of our 2011 visit. We were lucky in that we stayed with friends who have a second home in Chania. The gorge hike is a killer. Legs hurting for days afterwards. George was born in the village of Lakki and his parents also had a "summer" home in Omalos. One of Dimitra's closest friends owns the large building right before you enter the gorge for the hike. It sells all sorts of stuff as well as food and drinks. We were there June-July 2011. I hope you got to try some bougatsa-food eaten mainly for breakfast-dough with cheese inside and topped with or without sugar. it's so yummy! Also a good white wine to try would be the Clos de Creata.

Looking forward to reading more as we also did Santorini and rented a car for Nafplio, Olympia, Delphi, and Kalambaka/Meteora. Athens was at the beginning and end of our month long trip to Greece.
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 06:21 AM
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My knees call out in sympathy!
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 07:29 AM
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Whenever I read about people's aches & pains after Samaria, I count my blessings that I was not seduced by ballyhoo about "the Gorge" (Note: there are over 20 gorges in Crete, and at least 4 major ones that are alternatives to the highly-promoted Samaria. It's only that there are few commercial day tours to the others). A few years back in my upper 60s, we opted for Imbros Gorge in Mid-May. NO crowds... in fact we saw about a dozen people in toto all the way down. The greenery was lush, the smell of thyme was hypnotic (I felt as if I were a leg of lamb in a sunny oven), the flowers were lovely, the wildlife (goats, hawks) numerous ... AND, down near the end, the gorge narrowed dramatically, to a small area where one could almost touch both sides -- perhaps a long-armed basketball player could do it.

The bonus: the walk was half as long as Samaria or less. We stopped for a picnic lunch half way and it still took us about 4.5 hrs. The footing was challenging -- because the rocks could be the size of volleyballs, and a stretch of baseball-size rocks was a treat -- but good shoes and a stick helped. AND, the Germans who passed us using TWO trekking poles each were really loping along. At the end of the gorge, a small taverna gave us chilled drinks under a tree, and we walked along a road for about a km down to a beachside taverna where taxis waited. We took one back up the rimside road (20-30 switchbacks!!) to our car at Imbros. Lovely memories, and NO aches and pains the next day.

The ONLY drawback is that as far as I know, no organized tours available for the carless. There's only 1 bus per day from North Coast to Hora Sfakion, bout 14:00, stay the night, get a taxi up to the top of gorge next day, walk down, then stay o'nite again and get 7 AM but on day 3. A real hassle. Worth a 1-day car hire instead.
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Oct 23rd, 2014, 10:52 AM
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Day 4 – September 30th: Change of Plans or the Most Expensive Cheap Car Rental Ever (Part 1)

No wake up alarms were set for this morning. After a good night’s sleep we lingered in bed, checking emails, reading our home newspaper on the tablet, posting silly selfies to Facebook, you know………. The kind of thing that you do while postponing the moment when you have to actually put weight on your legs or knees. But bladders will only allow procrastination so far.

I bravely sat in bed and put my feet on the ground. Feet did not hurt, ankle was ok (I’ve had issues before), knees were fine; upper body no problem. It was time to stand up. Yup, calves and thighs were sore like crazy but I managed to wobble unsexily into the bathroom.

Having a stronger bladder, DH held out for at least another hour but he too eventually had to obey the call of nature. It was not good. Calves and thighs were very sore but the knees were bad.

The plan for today was to pick up the car we had rented at a very favorable price via Kayak through a formerly unheard-of broker named Car del Mar and routed to Olympic Rentals. We were supposed to drive along the Western coast and spend the day making our way to Elafosini beach.

Since I cannot drive a manual transmission and Cretan mountain roads are most certainly not the place to learn, the only available driver was DH. It did not take much deliberation of the Trip Planning Board to come to the conclusion that this was clearly not going to happen. We would spend the day relaxing in Chania and reevaluate the situation the next day. Or the next. Or the following week, who knew at the moment?

We had breakfast in the hotel (very decent for 6 € pp) while I continued haunted by images of the steps down to Amoudi Bay in Santorini, up to the Palamidi fortress in Nafplio and endless staircases of the Meteora monasteries. Panic began to set in but was firmly shut down by reason: ‘It will be what it will be. Ok. Not every trip has to be perfect. Ok. There can always be a next time. Exhale.’

The day had actually begun to clear up and wind was more manageable as we slowly and gingerly made our way to the rental car place to see if we could pick up the car the next day instead as we were not going to use it.

So we get to the rental car place and tell the kid that we would like to change the rental agreement. Off he goes to the supervisor at the end of the hall. We get looked at. Kid comes back. ‘No, it cannot be changed as this is a prepaid agreement.’

This is when that cheap price begins to be not as good. The way the contract works (and I was aware of this) was that cancellations are allowed up to 48 hours before the rental period and then a full charge is made to the credit card.

Ok, well, no problem, we just thought we would ask. I can read a contract. Or so I thought.

We make the next request: ‘Can we then still pick up the car tomorrow so that we don’t have to drive around and look for a parking?’. Kid goes down the hall again. Nope, we need to remove the car from the parking they rent from a nightclub before 8:00PM. Ok. And then he adds ‘It will be 70€ for the drop-off in Heraklion.’……………. WHAT!?!?!

I will say in my defense that I was overworked and stressed out around the period that I made these car reservations. My –incorrect- assumption was that if I put in pick-up place ‘Chania’ and drop-off place ‘Heraklio’ the price would include the different location fee already as every single other time I have done this.

Quick review of the contract revealed in font size 2.5 that the fee had not been included. No way of getting out of it. So we ended up paying 20€ more than the next cheapest quote I had before making this reservation as well as having the car for one more day than we actually needed. However, this is only Part I of the Tale of the Most Expensive Cheap Rental Cars Ever, Part II will take place in Athens.

So we got into the car and DH managed to drive it to the big public parking lot without too much pain. We slowly made it back to the old harbor and were pleased to see that we could actually walk on the waterfront without much risk of getting soaked by waves.

We spent the rest of the afternoon making a slow progression all the way to lighthouse and back which included a few stops to enjoy Cretan white along the way. We returned to the hotel to apply more anti-inflammatory medication and rest before going to dinner.

We asked for recommendations for a fish place and were pointed out to the new harbor. DH didn’t want to go so far or take a cab. The other place that was recommended was hosting a very loud and wild private wedding party (looked fun though) so we went down to my backup list of recommendations from Matt Barret’s Guide. Xilouris (Ta Neoria) is located almost at the end of the waterfront towards the lighthouse, before the nautical club (btw, the yacht club is the best place to hang out and watch the sunset Chania!).

The restaurant was lively but not rowdy. The inside tables were reserved for a large group but it was (barely) warm enough to sit outside without a heater so we took the table offered. We ordered grilled calamari and fried anchovies to get us going. They were both delicious.

Encouraged by the great two plates and copious amounts of wine on mostly empty stomachs we ordered seafood risotto, fried vegetables and, another plate of grilled calamari. Way, way too much. The vegetables were not that great, a bit soggy and under seasoned. The rice we got was nowhere anywhere near close to being a risotto by any Italian definition, it was more like a very bad Spanish Arroz Caldoso.

We picked on the seafood itself but the rice was inedible. Its texture was a disaster and taste was not appealing at all. The calamari was still good but we had just had too much and it wound up being eaten by the very appreciative begging cats that seem to be ubiquitous in Greek restaurants.

We got some complementary raki, fruit and cake. We happily wobbled back to the hotel and crashed for night hoping DH’s knees would feel better tomorrow.

Overall, there are far worse places in which to have to take a ‘down’ day than Chania.

Next: Cretan Roads and Monastery Steps
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Oct 24th, 2014, 08:37 AM
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Thanks to all for the replies!

cold, you are going to have to wait to find out

Jan, that hike sounds wonderful!

Overall, even with the knee pain affecting many things during the rest of the trip, DH still thinks the Samaria Gorge was one of the highlights. I don't really want to discourage anyone from going.
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Oct 24th, 2014, 08:38 AM
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Day 5 – October 1St: The Road Trip is On!

DH’s knees protested when he stood up from bed but he announced with a brave faint smile that he thought he would be OK to drive. Yay! We were on. The Plan would be salvaged.

After a quick breakfast in the hotel we wobbled to the public parking and took off to get introduced with the Western coast of Crete. But first, an excerpt from my Greece 101 Notes:

Driving in Greece

We are old-school drivers: we rely solely on maps. The paper kind. DH drives and I navigate. I had some unfortunate experiences with early GPS and never converted to paperless. I just love my maps.

Having said that, we got lost once in this trip and had to ask several times for directions to find the road we wanted, we missed a few exits due to dubious signage and had to drive back significantly and we searched in vain for a Monastery that was very high on my list of things to see. But from what I have read, GPSs are easily confused in Greece either so it might have happened anyway.

On this particular trip I found, even with the always consistent Michelin maps, that the color-coding of roads did not accurately reflect the condition of the road itself. For example, ‘Red Roads’ indicate state-owned roads that in the past I found to always have had two full lanes and one could count on keeping a consistent speed. This was NOT the case in Greece. We drove on ‘Red Roads’ that had no central lane markings and hairpin turns that could barely be taken without having to do a 3-point switchback.

There is a system to driving in Greece. Do not mess with it and you should be alright. To paraphrase the late Julia Child, you just ‘be fearless’ (and purchase full insurance for ease of mind).

- The most important point to this system is that you need to understand and accept that you do not own your lane. Lane lines are there simply to be considered as general guidelines. Embrace this concept and everything else will flow naturally.

- Greeks drive fast but you don’t need to feel pressured. Move to the side into the shoulder and let them go by. Even in curves. Even in BLIND curves.

- Two lane roads: Each driver straddles the shoulder line to their side of the row. At least 1/3 of the car needs to be on the shoulder at all times. Drivers will pass next to you (on both directions) on an imaginary third line in the middle. Even in curves. At any speed. Do not panic.

- No lane roads: Same as the two lane roads but it is more important to drive as much as you can on the shoulder.

- Highways: Though use of the right lane for passing only was consistent, people on the left lane still tended to straddle the shoulder line. Go figure. What happens when a car actually breaks down and needs to stop in the shoulder is anyone’s guess.

- Do not panic when you see other cars passing vehicles in tight, blind curves where passing is clearly not allowed. They count on the other car straddling the shoulder, making enough space for them. This is why you also need to let go of your preconceived driving notions have at least part of your car over that line at all times. You might cause serious accidents without being at fault.

- Always look for motorcycles. They come from everywhere at any time and speed. As far as we know, no rules apply to them.

- We drove a couple thousands kilometers. Outside the big toll highways we saw a total of 2 signs with road numbers and one was wrong. Do not look for them and do not trust them. Study your map beforehand as all directions are given by town name.

- 99% of the time there are signs with Latin letters following the ones in Greek. It is really not difficult.

The Plan

- Drive on E65 from Chania to Kissamos.
- Stop in Falasarna and see the ruins
- Take the coastal road south.
- Visit the Chrysokaltisas Monastery.
- Visit Elafonisi beach.
- Return on the inner mountain road via Vathi – Elos – Topolia road where we would then hook onto the major road from Paleochora to Polemarchio.

What Actually Happened

Truth is it went pretty much according to plan except that we did not get out in Falasarna to see the ruins. The descent to the beach offered an almost 180º view of olive groves between the mountains. The entrance road to the ruins looked a bit too much to tackle with our little rental and DH was not up to walking in.

The route to the Monastery was simply spectacular, mostly on No-Lane roads but they were in good condition. DH was able to tackle the hairpin turns without much knee pain. We stopped along the way for a glass of the (first of many) fresh orange juice.

DH did tackle the 80 steps up to the Monastery. It was the first Orthodox church we visited and were duly impressed. The views from the top were also really nice.

In Elafonisi we also opted out of going to the beach. There were tons of people still on the beach (day trippers and campers) and it would have been a long walk. We still had to think of the drive home.

The inner mountain route that we took back ran along narrow ravines and gorges. World-class destination scenery. A must-do for road trip lovers. After a quick stop for orange juice and a shared Greek salad along the way we returned to Chania around 4:00pm.

DH rested his legs for a while and then we went and saw one of the most spectacular sunsets of the entire trip while sitting in the Yacht Club close to the start of the lighthouse walk. As in wanting to tell people to forget that (in)famous Santorini sunset, instead go to Chania. At a much better bang for your buck. The sun gloriously sank behind the mountains, outlining the lighthouse in a million shades of orange and blue.
Our last dinner in Chania was in To XANI. From the pedestrian street it is easy to miss the entrance but you will most likely be enthusiastically be invited in by the tiny dynamo daughter of the owner. It shares a courtyard with the old Synagogue.

Not only was the food good, but the ambiance was so warm, happy and relaxing that I would have gone again (though it was not one of the cheapest meals we had). We shared an orange and avocado salad that I will certainly try to replicate at home. My goat stew was superb and DH’s lamb in tomato sauce was very good as well.

They had live music, two older men singing traditional tunes with string instruments (technically not guitars but I’m not 100% what the correct term is). But the highlight of the night came from the guests on the table sitting next to the musicians. One of the men on the table started to sing along with them with a deep baritone voice filled with emotion. One did not have to understand the words to feel the longing for romantic love or deep love for the Motherland.

His wife joined in, though she sang well, it was not at the same professional level as him. The songs were obviously well known and loved in the Cretan/Greek popular repertoire and more than once half of the tables in the courtyard and restaurant joined in to sing along. This moment will always remain in my mind as the embodiment of the Hellenic love of life and music. Needless to say, we lingered. Who needs to sleep after all?

Next: Enter the Labyrinth and a visit with Earth Mothers
marigross is offline  
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Oct 24th, 2014, 07:31 PM
  #20
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 129
I agree paper maps work better in Greece than the GPS. I didn't get much use out of the one we used in The Peloponnese and Central Greece. Hope your knees are feeling better.
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