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Crete - trip report - 3 weeks May 2013, a great and surprising trip!

Crete - trip report - 3 weeks May 2013, a great and surprising trip!

Jun 15th, 2013, 03:26 PM
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Crete - trip report - 3 weeks May 2013, a great and surprising trip!

Now here’s a surprise, our flight on 5th May leaves Milan early and when we get to Crete we are to be met by Dimitris (http://autorentals-crete.gr) who has so kindly invited us to spend Easter night with his family – but have to wait around for a while until he finds us. Then we are whisked off to his home where we are enveloped into the family – lovely wife Aggelika (with good English) two handsome sons and a pretty daughter of 10 years. I am so glad I brought some presents (chocolate macadamia nuts and a fluffy koala), the 10 yr old is delighted… It’s Easter Saturday and after ‘Good Week’ when they deny themselves lots of things (meat and fish and oil etc etc) they are all about to break their fast that night with feasting. Because they know we’ll be tired and hungry they break with tradition a little and we are allowed to eat before the church service at midnight instead of after it so we fill ourselves with homemade bread, lamb from a brother in the mountains cooked to perfection and vegetables and delicious salad – plus lots of Cretan Raki (for auspiciousness) and wine… Tom is falling asleep on his feet and heads off to bed but I can’t resist the trip to the church (just down the road) to join hundreds of locals as the priest sings, they ring the Easter bells to announce that Christ has arisen, and we all light candles to take home to bless the house… and then the fireworks and dynamite start – so loud and so much and for so long… I don’t know how Tom manages to sleep through it.
For the rest of us it’s more raki and then falling into bed sometime between 1.00 and 2.00 when many other families are probably just sitting down to eat.
No wonder everyone is a bit bleary next morning but we take our little hire car from Dimitris (Seat Ibiza – E385 for 18 days) and head off to Agios Nikalaus… an easy trip which takes us about 50minutes on a good highway until we reach Agios Nikalaus and get lost in the narrow streets, the gps wanting us to head down one-way streets, and take another 20 minutes to find Mantraki Apartments where we are to stay for 3 nights. In spite of our nerves about driving on the right side of the road again (especially after our little accident in Turkey last year) it’s a beautiful drive, much of it close to the water looking out towards other islands.
A lovely warm welcome from our hosts Costas and Maria at Mantraki Apartments and we are shown to a beautiful little apartment on the 4th floor with a view over the marina and out to sea… I’d booked it ages ago and forgotten how lovely it is… we have a separate bedroom with its own balcony as well as the kitchen/lounge with the main balcony and the only problem is that it is Easter so most shops are shut and we won’t be able to buy food supplies – pity that, we’ll just have to eat at the many great looking tavernas.
Off out quickly to meet up with American Mitch met on the Tripadvisor site and over lunch we discover we have lots in common and plan to see the sights together for a couple of days – great! It’s a long lunch and after a bit of exploring we head back to sleep deeply before dragging ourselves out for some dinner – it’s hard to eat again so soon but we manage to force ourselves.
Three days in lovely Agios Nikalaus – first day is Easter Monday so although we take Mitch and head up the hills to Kritsa and the ancient site of Lato, the lovely church (Panagia Kera) with the great frescoes is shut - and Lato as well. In spite of this we find a delightful little taverna next to the church and discover the local drink flavoured with almonds and cinnamon – simouda (yummy). They are clearly pressing somewhere nearby, the smell of good olive oil is intoxicating.
On to Kritsa to wander the pretty town, browse the pottery and lace shops (shops open even on Easter Sunday) and visit their beautiful church (thanks to a smile at an old lady in the yard who rushes off to get the key for us)…
So it’s on to Lato, - amazing position on top of a hill looking right down the valley, windswept and barren. But although we climb the first fence, we meet another much higher one and have to content ourselves with the view… ho hum, (Mitch writes later that he finally got there and it was definitely ho hum in spite of locals telling us otherwise). Not to be daunted we head down to Milatos on the water to the well reviewed"No Stress" taverna right on the rocks, waves crashing at our feet. There we eat well! No matter the weather or if holidays disturb our plans, we can still eat well – it seems to be the main activity here. Small fried fish and tzatziki followed by a delicious whole fish Tom and I share ( Eu15 it’s an unbelievable bargain)…
Back to Ag Nik to sleep it all off and head out for a walk before mezze snackies and drinks for dinner – can’t possibly eat another meal this time. When we get back to the hotel, our host and his son-in-law are playing traditional instruments and singing in the bar – it’s a holiday but also his daughter Irene’s name day so there is a double celebration. Friends from Norway who stay for months each year have joined them as well as Maria, a local girl we have communicated with on the internet… much laughter and music and raki ensue and when Costas and Maria sing a love song together, there are tears as well. What a lovely family! What a lovely place to stay!
Next day is another holiday… hmmmm it’s 7th May in actual fact, but because 1st May (a big independence celebration day in Greece) was during ‘Good Week’ before Easter when people try to fast or at least be moderate in their behaviour, they moved it to this week – Tuesday 7th becomes the honorary 1st May… Only in Greece! They certainly don’t want to miss a party day.
Nevertheless, we are off to another highly recommended lunch spot along the coast, the tiny town of Mohlos but we do stop at Gournes along the way – my first Minoan site… I remind myself that this place is over 4000 years old and we are walking really ancient streets but I think have been spoiled by the truly amazing sites in Turkey and am underwhelmed, even when Mitch stands on the ancient ritual sacrifice stone in what was the temple on the hill… hmmm
But Mohlos is beautiful. We wind down and down (wondering if Mitch will make it back up on his scooter) to a tiny cove, and sandy beach lined with about 5 tavernas and a lovely little island with ruins directly opposite. We loved our meal at Sofia taverna. You can get a local fisherman to take you across but we decided to laze away on the mainland – besides many ruins look better from far away…
Back to Ag Nik, a leisurely walk around the lake where the holidaymakers are in full swing, children racing about on scooters and bikes, young people flirting, old people strolling arm in arm. I could get used to this town.
We meet Mitch for a last meal (a small bite after our wonderful lunch in Mohlos) and sleep well so we can head out early.
It’s a misty grey day as we head back along the highway towards Heraklion and then turn south into the mountains in the shadow of the mighty Psiloritis (after missing the turnoff and driving about 20 kms towards Rethymnon). We stop at the convent of Paliano, the oldest on the island – a lovely spot with a 1000 yr old church and a sweet little shop selling trinkets the nuns make to help support themselves – and some raki… hmmmm We pass through the Ayia Varvara valley where the strange rock formations are said to bring on unexplained rains squalls and yes, it rains suddenly and heavily.
In spite of, or even because of the rain which starts soon, the mountains are awe-inspiring… we go higher and higher through little villages and slowly the trees finish and we are surrounded by strangely manicured hillsides, little tussocks of varying shades of green and russet. Many of these are the famous mountain herbs, wild thyme at least I recognise. The sheep and goats brought to these high pastures in the warmer months feed on these herbs, which lends a wonderful flavour to the meat. The lamb with which we celebrated the end of the Easter fasting in Heraklion with Dimitris and Aggelika came from a brother in the mountains – it was divine!
And then it’s over the top and down down (winding down) towards our destination Matala, stopping to marvel at the stunning views. We pass the brown signs that point to ancient sites and we will return in the next days, and then, after a delightful lunch in an authentic taverna in Mires, quickly and smoothly we are in the lovely sheltered bay of Matala. The sun bursts through and life is warm and friendly again. We’d heard Matala was crowded and commercial and quite spoilt and even advised to try the next beach of Kalamaki - but we find Kalamaki soul-less and windswept and Matala is just lovely. In the late 60’s and early 70’s travelling hippies found this little paradise and camped in the caves on the northern cliffside – caves that turned out to be ancient graves and which are now fenced off and you need a ticket to get in… Joni Mitchell wrote one of my favourites ‘Carey’ about staying here and the Mermaid Café where she and Carey drank wine is still there – although I suspect any resemblance is in name only, it’s so sanitised and pretty and serves fruit juices and smoothies… hmmmm
We find a lovely place to stay, Hotel Fantastic in fact, and are given a comfortable, pretty little apartment with kitchen and a sunny balcony for 30 Euros… just fantastic! Matala quite deliberately maintains its hippy roots, even holding an annual festival now attracting thousands of old hippies from all over. There are flowers painted on the streets, peace and love stickers of the kombis, rainbow clothes in the bazaar and love is in the air (oh and a Carrefour and lots of great beach side restaurants). We plan to stay two nights but extend it to three (it’s our kind of place) and spend the next days happily wandering Minoan sites (3500 years and older!), swimming in the Libyan Sea and eating well in the local restaurants. First we try the ruins of ancient Gortyna (now Gortys) spread out over fields near the main road north of Mires. Again, after Turkey, we are underwhelmed, and a bit concerned that people have raved about it. There’s a nice old Basilica (Ayios Titos), a small Odeon area and some very important inscriptions, ‘the Code of Gortyna’, the ‘Great Inscription’, but these are fenced away from troublesome tourists and you have to crane through the fencing to see the intricate writing. Otherwise it is hard to find much of the ancient remains but we did find our way up to the acropolis hill overlooking the site. In spite of being told at the site office that there was no road to the hill, we followed the advice of an old guide book and worked our way through the little village and up through the fields and the goats to the top. It was worth it to look down on the remains and the lush valley below.
Crete is a constant surprise to me. I had expected an arid landscape and here again the valley is lush and green, the hills covered with wild flowers and the main roads lined with flowering trees – mainly pink white and red Oleanders but mixed with other bushes with bright yellow flowers… so beautiful!
Back to Matala for a tasty greek salad lunch on our balcony, a good (if chilly) swim and a wander along the rows of restaurants checking where we shall eat out tonight – Elena’s Taverna looks authentic and the prices are good. The bazaar is mostly full of tacky stuff – much of it from China, but I do find a lovely little wooden toy for the most recent member of our little family. We do eat at Elena’s and find it less than we had hoped. I suspect the restaurants along the beach front are much of a muchness, serving tourist fare and competing to keep prices low. Perhaps the classier places up on the headland? Perhaps not…
Next day we hit the best nearby site – Phaestos – and admittedly it is much more interesting than those we have seen… but we are a bit blaze now I suppose. After the Mayan pyramids, the beauty of Tuscan hill towns, Ankor Wat in Cambodia, the wonders of Ephesus and Aphrodisias in Turkey, these ancient sites in Crete are sometimes like a jumble of old stones… But Phaestos is really quite lovely. It has a glorious position and apparently the queen could look from her quarters to the holy cave on the slopes of Mt Psiloritis soaring above. There are some great artefacts (huge storage vases hidden in stone rooms) and a magnificent open court area and procession way – the atmosphere is tangible here. It helps that we are here in glorious sunshine – wonderful what a blue sky will do for the spirits and the photos!
We drop in to have a peek at the third famous site in the area Ayia Triadha, but it is uninspiring (maybe because we are hungry) and we decide to head home instead, stop in the village of Pitsidia for a fabulous wood fired pizza while a sudden rainstorm washes the streets and then continue the 5kms or so to Matala to find bone dry streets and a sunny afternoon… a strange little microcosm. We climb the southern cliffs towards Red Beach but decide it is too late in the day to go all the way and content ourselves with watching the lengthening shadows over what could be such a pretty town – it concerns me just a little that more effort is not made to beautify this great little town. Empty buildings rust and rot on the hills, ugly new buildings mar what must have been a nice little village. On other islands like Sifnos or Paros, a place like this would be gorgeous – little white washed houses tumbling down the hills - here they just don’t quite have that touch. But in the setting sun all is beautiful.
On the road again – heading west along the south coast, through Timpaki (no comment), first stop Agia Galini a steep little town clustered on hills above a tiny cove – lots of tourists clearly love it but we have a long way to go, parking in the narrow winding streets is well nigh impossible and we keep going, back away from the coast and up into the beautiful hills again heading towards Spili but turning off before that, to wind (and I do mean wind… switch back after switch back) and even part of the way driving along the beach, to tiny Agia Fotini. It’s just a tiny beach with one taverna (with four rooms) - and it’s full! Fortunately a builder there has built an apartment block 300m up the road and we find ourselves in a rather plush apartment with a beautiful balcony over the sea, all mod cons (even a dishwasher) again for 30 Euros a night!! What a find! Only thing - we have the best kitchen we’ve seen in Crete and no food to cook there and the nearest shop is in Spili about 25km of the very winding road away. No choice but to eat at the tavern, but it’s great! After a luscious lunch with a little too much wine and that lethal raki (they give you a little at the end of the meal with a free dessert and it usually just tips you over the edge) we have to have a little lie down (Tom did swim there before lunch) before a good walk to work up an appetite for another lovely meal. So much here does revolve around eating and drinking – seems to be the Greek way.
Agia Fotini is lovely if you’re looking for solitude and sunshine but there is really nothing else and we head off the next morning early and first visit Moni Preveli a monastery high on a beautiful promontory. It was a centre of Cretan resistance against the Turks and again during WW2 when the monks helped many Allied troops into waiting submarines until the Germans took it over. It is quite beautiful with flowers everywhere, an interesting little museum and, strangely, a small menagerie too. Many grateful soldiers, as well as the British govt have made offerings in thanks.
On from Preveli we stop next at the resort town of Plakias – hmmm not quite our kind of town – and then on to Frangokastelo, another peaceful little beachside town, this one famous for the large and impressive Venetian castle on the shore. It is unfortunately an almost empty shell but it’s fun to climb into the tower and look out over the coastline and back to the hills and mountains behind – now high enough to still have white strips of snow even now in May. It must be a glorious sight in winter.
After a nourishing lunch at Lisvos Taverna (we left Agia Fotini without breakfast and the lamb stew and liver and onions with other assorted offal are really delicious) and even a swim on the less windy side, we are off again to a very different part of Crete. We are to stay in Hora Sfakion at the start of Sfakia, where the moustaches are wide and the men wear black , are tough and still often carry a weapon. They drive like they own the roads, not just in the crazy way all the others do - these don’t give way… these are the real fighters of the island, the rebels who never gave in (and were often slaughtered for it). It feels a little like the old west (except by the sea). Hora Sfakion is small and cramped between two hills and the sea. It’s main function now seems to be as the start (or end) of the ferry routes along the south coast, taking people and goods (and many hikers and tourists) to towns that still don’t have road access. We are here to take the ferry ride to Loutro ourselves the following day and take a room at the well-known Stavris Hotel, a little back from the water, although there are a few to choose from right on the waterfront. (have a look at their website – the family story – great!) The wind is so strong that we forego our usual search for the best view in town and Georgio is so keen for us to take his room he drops the price and throws in a fridge and a jug… We walk the town from end to end (it doesn’t take long) and climb the rocks to stand in the spray… but can’t work up an appetite after our big lunch and end up eating cheese and bikkies with our ouzo in our room.
The wind seems better to us the next morning but - all ferries are cancelled – all day! Disappointed tourists line the dock but it’s no good. We say our goodbyes and head north to Chania , hoping for better weather there.
The road is spectacular from Hora Sfakion north… have I told you how much I LOVE these mountains?? We gaze down into the Imbros gorge (always so wonderful from the outside rather than struggling along inside) which is rocky and so deep, and climb up again into the high pastures where we meet misty clouds and a herd of sheep. Two rams at the back of the herd, quite oblivious to us and clearly full of spring testosterone give us quite a display. Right in front of us they eye each other off and move back about 30 feet… then race at each other and bounce of each other’s horns with such force pieces of horn fly like sparks… they do it again and one staggers back clearly defeated. Then muscling each other in a dazed way they head for the car and look like they will charge us… but turn away in time and wander off after the herd. Ahh rams on the mountainside - boys will be boys and it is spring after all…
So we head on towards Chania stopping for yogurt and honey in Vrisses – the story is that Hilary and Bill were visiting Crete (while Bill was in the WhiteHouse) and loved the Vrisses yogurt so much Hilary took the recipe home – but the Whitehouse chefs couldn’t make it as well… duh… maybe something about the milk?
We park near the old town (with some trouble – for the moment we sneak into the residents only area) and find our way to Theotokopolou Street to look for our home for the next 6 days…
We look at a couple but find just what we want in Natalie’s Rooms in a little dead-end lane off Theotokopoulou. An upstairs room with kitchen and renovated bathroom and a little balcony out over the street and a lovely roof garden too. It’s tiny but very charming and everything we need – and it’s only 35 Euros a night! We decide to stay 6 nights and are happy to hear that this is just how long it is vacant!
Sent 20/5…
I have fallen in love with Chania! We are staying on the quiet edge of the old town where there is no traffic and people sit around tables with their grandchildren. We just love to wander the ancient streets, each time finding new corners, a new beautiful building, a lovely little shop to browse or a tempting taverna to salivate over.
The old town centres around, and all roads eventually lead to, the Venetian port. We could watch it all day, from the early morning (and anything before 9 is early here) when it is well nigh deserted and the morning light is soft on the old Turkish mosque in the centre… through the busy hours, when the tourists flock through the streets, one day a couple of cruise ships docked at the same time and it was packed… to the evening hours when people gather for drinks at the many waterside restaurants and the lowering sun brings out the pinks and mustard yellows in the mosque and the old buildings. It makes we wish I could paint but instead I take photo after photo… as every good tourist does.
Have you noticed how everyone carries a camera these days? Sometimes I feel guilty to realise I am wondering whether I will enjoy a site if I can’t take photos?… ridiculous!
First morning (after a wonderful sleep) we make our way out to the central market for supplies– a traditional covered market in the main square. Hmmm Chania doesn’t seem to do early… we arrive there at about 9.00am and it is really just starting to open up. We find a coffee and pastry and wait happily. This used to be the centre of Chania's life but it has sadly been taken over by a lot of tourist stalls and there is only one fruit stall, a few (very good) fish stalls and one or two butchers and cheese shops. There are some traditional market tavernas too, but we buy food (fish and vegies)to take home and cook as well as a lovely range of olives and cheeses and sheep’s’ milk yogurt (cheaper than the cows’ and wonderful!) and make plans to come back to the little cafes there.
With the makings of a good picnic (bread, cheese, tomato, olives, mustard) we head out onto the Akrotiri Peninsula – first to the really beautiful 17th century Monastery of Agia Triadha… you can wander right through it, beautiful old buildings in varying shades of ochre and rust (they have used a golden stone a bit like Jaisalmir) and it seems to glow in the amazing light as the black clouds build up on the horizon (and soon overhead). Delighted, we head on to the next monastery, Gouvernatou out a lovely winding road through hills covered in shrubs like the high country I love so much. But the monastery is closed (they have ‘interesting’ opening hours) and as we walk on past it to the cliffs that have seen such a violent past, the storm hits – huge icy cold rain drops pelt us and the driving wind sends us scuttling back to our cosy little car…
Time to look for shelter for our picnic. On the advice of our hostess Nathalie (a helpful lass from Glasgow who has settled in Chania), we avoid the more popular beaches on the western side of the peninsula and wind down to little quiet Marathi a beach of soft sand, a couple of tavernas – just beautiful! We eat in a closed taverna and the sun even shines through for a brief time… then head to one of the tavernas for coffee and what turns out to be the richest and biggest dessert imaginable… delicious but not the thing to eat before a very windy road - oh dear.
Next day it’s out again – to the hills and the ancient site of Aptera. I don’t have a lot of expectations this time but am very pleasantly surprised. Imagine a hilltop city overlooking the sea – largely unexcavated I suspect – it was a huge community. The mountains (still with little strips of snow behind, the blue sea before). All around are fields of wild flowers, red poppies and yellow and white daisies, and everywhere we walk we crunch on little white chamomile flowers lightly perfuming the air. And the ruins are really interesting too. An old monastery of St John the Theologian is the most prominent and very beautiful it is too, but there are Roman cisterns below – spooky with echoing pigeons and dripping water, a Roman bathhouse and some old houses to explore. Lots more too but they are working there and have it fenced off. It’s my favourite site in Crete thus far and hopefully it will only get better.
Next day we take the day cruise to Balos and Gramvousa - up around the northwest point of Crete. We drive to Kissamos (an easy drive of about ½ hour) and board a large ferry (the only one going at the early stage of the season – later there will be three boats a day)
It’s a really good outing in spite of a slightly cloudy sky (perhaps it’s good actually – we would be very burnt otherwise). First stop is Gramvousa fort… the boat stops at a lovely little cove and we look up at a little path winding up and up to the top of the headland – it looks daunting but almost everyone on the boat heads off bravely. Alongside the path are the usual scrubby little plants, some herbs, some prickles, pruned into beautiful shapes (almost like topiary) by the ever present goats. At last we are at the top and look down warily marvelling at how far we have climbed. On top there is a huge old Venetian fortress, with a small church inside and the thick walls and circular turrets are pretty well all that remains - but the view is magnificent.
Then it’s on to Balos, pink sand and amazing turquoise water… we swim and lie around for a while to digest the surprisingly good lunch on the boat and then head back to Kissamos – a great day out and well worth the Eu22 price.
One morning at the apartment we are lazily getting our breakfast together when the sky turns dark and I rush to bring in the washing from the little rack on the balcony. But it’s not rain that comes. We are hit by a huge dust storm, later they tell us it was like a twister. These winds come from Africa (they say) and bring fine dust from the desert. It gets into everything, through the tiniest of cracks, and is so hard to remove, the housewives despair and when they last long, people develop breathing problems and go a little crazy. This one is brief but very powerful – canopies and umbrellas and even tables are blown about, there is the sound of pot plants smashing to the cobble stones and people running to protect their property – and then it is all over! People gather to chat about what happened, what damage they incurred and to shake their heads about it happening so early in the season… It’s followed by a few big drops of rain, just enough to turn the dust on all the cars to fine mud… yuck.
Today we went to the Saturday market, so tonight we eat tiny marinated fish, guacamole from local avocados (free cause we only wanted two and they were too cheap and the lady didn’t have change), magnificent olives, blue cheese and rye bread toasted on the little stove and we are about to have strawberries (E2 for a huge punnet) and melon with sheep's yogurt and local honey... all accompanied by local ouzo - life's rather good...
It being a hot afternoon we lay around a little and then walked the 10 minutes down to the local beach – a stretch of rather silty sand and clear smooth water with local children playing and a few sun lounges and umbrellas. Lovely and so close. We are day-dreaming about coming back here next year with our daughter and four yr old grand-daughter, taking our lovely room again plus the self-contained one downstairs as well – that would mean we have the whole little Venetian house, two bathrooms, two kitchenettes and the roof garden too… could be just wonderful!! Play grounds and a beach within walking distance, lots of cute restaurants and friendly people everywhere, and so many wonderful places within short driving distance to share.
Sunday we leave (sigh) – heading for Rethymnon we take a side trip up into the hills to find Agiroupoli a place of many springs and waterfalls and restaurants that serve fresh trout that they farm - you may choose for your plate. The town above is trying hard to be a tourist attraction and pleasant enough (although not for us on a hot and dusty day). We miss the site of Lappa and head on down, getting a bit lost in the winding roads but finally make it to Rethymnon on a hot dusty Sunday afternoon when the town is pretty dead and we are not inclined to be impressed – having just left our beloved Chania.
We stay at the highly recommended Barbara’s Studios for E48 - a little warren of a place with the kindest managers ever… we stay in a studio with the double bed upstairs (unfortunately a bit hot and stuffy unless we run the aircon which we are not so keen on) but it’s the little touches that make the place delightful – the kitchenette is well stocked with tea and coffee etc but also with oils and bread and sweets – and raki or ouzo – and each day the lovely hostess brings us a sweet – divine chocolate cake the first day, cinnamon custard the next. We feel very cared for.
Rethymnon has a Venetian harbour that is a tiny version of Chania but it has a much larger old city. The first afternoon we see just a little – and being Sunday afternoon most of it is closed… not an exciting start. We do have a lovely dinner at To Pigadi well worth its listing as #7 of restaurants in Rethymnon (Tripadvisor). It has a beautiful setting and lovely food (if a little more than our usual budget) – we only wish we were hungrier…
Next day it’s off to the hills to explore – in particular the monastery of Arkadi… one with a rather special history… It was built in the 16th century and played a very active role when the Cretans fought against the Ottomans in the 19th century. 943 people, mostly women and children sought refuge in the monastery but after three days of battle, being outnumbered, they blew up barrels of gunpowder choosing death rather than surrender. In a little shrine outside is a cupboard full of skulls and in the monastery itself they have kept the room where the group died pretty well as it was, except for a huge mural of the rebels. A Brit arriving there a year later said the ground was still covered with bones, you couldn’t walk without crushing them… there are so many tales of horrors like this in Crete. The people have struggled with invading forces so often and have stood up to them, some might say bravely… others find it sadly naïve. Like the story of the rebels who captured a German General during the 2nd WW – the German forces then came and totally destroyed their villages killing all the people and razing the villages to the ground. The rebels must have known this kind of retribution would come… ?
Anyway it was interesting to wander the monastery and to see how lovingly it is tended by the few monastics that still live there. Roses grow in profusion in the stony ground (could say something poetic about them growing from the blood of the true Cretan rebels… but I won’t) and there is a peaceful meditative feeling.
After driving without real direction in the lovely hills, we stopped for a cooling drink at a little taverna with a magnificent view and asked the friendly owner (and grower of the oranges whose juice we were enjoying) where he would go for a swim nearby. His answer was that he wouldn’t… if he had time off he would go to the beaches of the south (back where we had come from around Agia Fotini and Agia Galini)… when pressed he suggested some little coves far below us (west of Bali and, yes, with a Bali Beach Hotel)… down there we found the lovely little town of Panormos, swam in the clear water, ate another huge lunch and decided to give up our room in Rethymnon and come back here for a night.
Of course now that we had decided to leave Rethymnon it started to look much better… first we explored the Venetian fortessa – dominating the town on the hill and fascinating inside… lots of golden stone in the setting sun – just gorgeous!
We certainly didn’t need to eat dinner but we walked the old town, found a beautiful mosque (now a theatre), many Ottoman ruins, fountains, houses etc and even a few Roman remains. In the early evening, with people out and about, drinking and talking and preparing for dinner, it was a lovely experience.
Next morning – up and off to the beach at Panormos… the room we had looked at yesterday at Captains House is not actually available it turns out, but we find an even better one around the corner at Christina’s Rooms – complete with a full kitchen (with oven!) for only 35euros… we take advantage of the full stove and prepare a big roast dinner which, after a few swims and walks, we enjoy on our outdoor deck over the sea.
And now it’s off to Heraklion but on the way we visit the biggest and best site Crete has to offer, ancient Knossos. It’s Bronze Age and believed to be one of the oldest cities in Europe… the capital of Minoan culture later colonised by Romans etc… It was excavated and restored with varying degrees of success by a British archaeologist Arthur Evans, and now most believe he got quite a lot wrong (as the signs let you know)– but he’s done a lot of rebuilding in concrete and it can’t be changed. It’s a bit odd therefore to look at buildings as he thought they would have looked and wonder how much is correct… It’s one of the hottest days too so walking around the site with little shade is exhausting and soon we gladly make our way down to the Heraklion waterfront to our room at the Life Hotel – just 200m from the ferry port and not much more up to the archaeological museum and town centre. At 47 Euros it’s really good, comfortable room (with fridge) and helpful staff. I don’t know why it’s not busier.
Heraklion is hot and a bit noisy after our wanderings.… the museum is lovely (but closed at 3pm still full) and the streets around the centre quite fun, I even get a new cap in a Eu2 shop – and a pair of clogs too… only downside is that we find all the economy seats on the boat to Santorini next day are full and we have to pay 65euros for business class – for a 2 hour trip! Amazing!
There’s a good supermarket down near the hotel AND the best chocolate shop I have seen for ages (Mark Perry’s’) so we stock up on deli specials and chocolate baklava and eat in our comfy room. Later our car hire friend Dimitris (http://autorentals-crete.gr) and his lovely wife Aggelika come to pick up the car and stop for a drink at the hotel bar. We talk until late, too late, but it is hard to say goodbye…
In fact I am glad of the business class boat seat the next day… the crossing is a bit rough due to more wind from the south (carrying lots of dust) and we are upstairs, with lots of room and big comfortable seats (no free cocktails but what to do?)… we arrive in Santorini at 12 noon and have to wait until nearly 4.00 for our ongoing ferry for Naxos, but we decide to stay down at the port, play on the computer (free wifi), read and have a very leisurely lunch. Santorini is badly affected by the wind, dust and clouds and I feel for the people arriving there for the first time to see it in this way. When we arrived last year the sky was crystal clear and the little villages tumbling down from the tops of those amazing cliffs were just magical.
yeshekathy is offline  
Jun 16th, 2013, 06:26 AM
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 39
I just added Crete to my bucket list!
Great report!
skz5 is offline  
Jun 16th, 2013, 01:01 PM
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 2,329
1st May (a big independence celebration day in Greece)

The 1st of May is traditionally the Labour Day in Europe.
clausar is offline  
Jul 5th, 2013, 01:15 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,140
Thanks for the report. We are aiming that direction next year. I was thinking that the area around Phaistos might be worth a few days after longing around Chania. Your report certainly filled in some blanks. After that, we are going to Heraklion before a jump to Santorini. Do you remember how long the drive was from Heraklion to the Phaistos area? I was hoping to have time to hit Knossos before dropping the car at the port late afternoon.

Ian is offline  
Dec 5th, 2013, 10:59 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 152
hmm just found this question having not looked at this thread for a while.. sorry.

Although it isn't really far from Phaistos to Heraklion it is through the mountains (which deserve some time) and if you want to enjoy Phaistos, frankly I would leave out Knossos which was not nearly as impressive to me, much more crowded and a bit artificial. So if you only have one day, see Phaistos and then head straight to bustling Heraklion (which is not that bad either, nice castle, nice centre of town, great museum).
And don't forget that the Life Hotel is really convenient for your ferry next morning and good value.
yeshekathy is offline  
Dec 13th, 2013, 02:11 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,140
Guilty as well of late check-in.

After Chania, I ended up booking 3 nights in Zaros at the Eleonas Cottages which will give us time to visit Phaistos as a part of a day trip. When we leave Zaros, it is on to a hotel near the ferry in Heraklion. That is when we will slide into Knossos. And your description fits what I have heard but like many overrun tourist places, you still have to go . . .

Ian is offline  

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