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Our first trip to Greece: Wow! Crete, Santorini, Naxos, and Athens

Our first trip to Greece: Wow! Crete, Santorini, Naxos, and Athens

Aug 22nd, 2011, 06:24 AM
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Our first trip to Greece: Wow! Crete, Santorini, Naxos, and Athens

Wow. I can't believe how fantastic our trip to Greece was. Thank you first of all to Traveler Jan, Heimdall, Brotherleelove, and Stanbr for all of their frequent advice on this board. Thanks also to Tejana for her fantastic trip report from a couple of months back that gave us some great ideas.

Crete:

We flew into Chania on a Saturday afternoon and shortly after arrived at Casa Delfino where we were greeted by Margarita who was such a wonderful host to us. She gave us a few introductory words to practice in Greek and then we set off to explore over the next two days. Chania was a beautiful place to start our trip as we loved wandering through the winding streets and walking by the harbour and beach. Margarita gave us some great restaurant recommendations and we enjoyed them all. Portes on the first night was a great introduction to the wonderful meals we would be enjoying over the next couple of weeks. We also had a great lunch at Tamam and then our final dinner was at a fish tavern on the water, close to the museum. The name escapes me, but the friendly older gentleman who was the owner brought us into his kitchen to show off our fish options for the evening as we had our first of many whole fish dishes during our trip that night.

Casa Delfino was a great place to stay. We stayed in the executive suite on an upgrade and the breakfasts were some of our best from our entire trip. Some of the preserves were based on Margarita's family recipes and her family, in fact, has beeen associated with the hotel dating back to a couple of centuries back. The staff were ever kind and helpful. When the taxi strike began (at that time, it was only supposed to be 48 hrs!), Margarita phoned our car rental agency and had them drive over to bring our car as we were initially to meet them in the airport.

Two nights in Chania were just perfect for us. We had arranged our rental from Anna Cars and they promptly delivered our car the next morning and hopped in the car to help guide us out of Chania. I would highly recommend them. With the help of the GPS, we then began the drive to Frangokastello where we planned to stay for one night as we began our exploration of Southern Crete. We enjoyed the winding drive down which was beautiful. We then arrived at our hotel, Kallicrates Village, where we were greeted by the friendly owner Antonis. It was a beautiful property and only a quick drive to a couple of beaches and the castle. We enjoyed our afternoon on the beach right in front of the castle, our first of many beach days in the coming days. We then returned to our hotel where we had a relaxing swim before getting ready for dinner. Antonis had recommended a tavern on the beach closest to his place, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner overlooking the water and enjoying the first of many sunsets. The next morning, we took a walk on the beach and then returned for a great breakfast before setting off to our next destination, Triopetra. Antonis told us it would maybe take us 90 minutes. Famous last words!

Triopetra is a beach that had been recommended by a friend who travelled to Crete the previous summer. She warned me the drive was quite windy with gravel roads near the end. But I thought to myself, 'Hey, I'm from Vancouver...I've done plenty of mountain driving, how hard can it be?' Well, even after numeous drives through various winding country drives in Provence and Tuscany, this was totally a new experience for me! The GPS didn't register our destination so we were reliant on our maps. We stopped in Plakias for some additional directions from a very helpful woman in the tourist office. We then continued our drive through the mountains on the perfectly paved, but very narrow, windy, and guard rail less roads through the small tiny towns en route. I always had a laugh when I saw the sign indicating a winding section was ahead...they were all winding! After about 2.5 hours, we made it to the turn off for Triopetra. It said we were 11 km away. Easy right? Well, this was where the narrow roads turned to gravel. On top of that, they were in the process of paving the road so along the way we were encountering these massive trucks on this narrow road. After the longest 11km of my life, we arrived at our destination: Pension Pavlos at Triopetra. It was worth the drive!

Pension Pavlos is operated by a father and son. The father opened it about 25 years ago and is still invovled in the operation but Giorgos, the son, seems to primarily run the show right now. We overlooked this wonderful remote beach where we enjoyed suntanning, swimming, and exploring over the next two days. The pension is quite bare bones which totally fits the feel of Triopetra. We had all of our meals at the Pension as there is nothing else around. The food was incredible. The father would catch the fish in the morning and in the afternoon we could 'reserve' our fish for the evening. The meals were absolutely outstanding, as nearly all of the food was sourced from their nearby farm. Here in British Columbia, we always talk about 'eating local' but here it was the only option they would ever consider. Giorgos would always take the time to answer all of our questions about the food and about Triopetra and Pension Pavlos. He was there for every single meal of our stay. The beach was beautiful with another one close by within a short hike to explore. Staying here was one of the highlights of our trip as we were so far removed from anything. It felt wonderful. It was interesting because from our perspective, we were happy to see they were paving the road, as I selfishly thought it would make it easier to drive. The perspective of Giorgos was different, however; he thought it might make things too busy, and that sometimes the most special of places should take a little bit of work to get there. I would agree.

After two nights, we said our goodbyes and began our trek to Heraklion. The 11 km drive to the main highway went well, only a few big trucks to avoid! On the way to Heraklion, we stopped in Spilli which was a lovely town filled with artisans. What a great spot. We then continued on to Heraklion and the route here was far less challenging...until we got to the airport to drop off our car. It seemed quite busy on our approach and many cars were parked on the side of the road. When we got to the road toward the parking lot, there seemed to be a number of cars blocking our route and we were turned away and ended up back on the highway! So, after a few death defying turns, we found an exit and made our way back to the aiport to try again. This time we asked what was going on and the gentleman turning us around, a taxi driver, told us the taxi drivers had blockaded the aiport and we were to park our rental car on the off ramp from the airport along with everyone else. We parked our car, phoned Anna Cars, and they informed us they would not be greeting us as they had been blockaded at Chania Airport from the strike. He told us to leave the keys and the GPS with the parking lot cashier and assured us it was not a problem. We did as instructed and then walked 1.5 km to the nearest bus stop to take the bus into Heraklion, which was luckily not that far away. Our hotel, Lato Boutique Hotel, told us when we phoned them that they would then pick us up in the main square as the taxi strike had gone from a 48 hr. strike to an indefinite one, which we had been unaware of after being internet free for 3 nights in Southern Crete. We finally made it to our hotel, and lost only a minimal amount of time in the process. We spent the afternoon wandering through Heraklion and were glad we only had an afternoon here as this city had a grittier feel than the rest of the trip to date. We enjoyed our hotel, however, and our meal at their rooftop restaurant Herb's Garden, was one of our most memorable of the trip.

The next morning, we walked to our ferry which was close to our hotel to catch the Flying Cat to Santornini. We loved our time in Crete. Everyone was so friendly and the Cretan Cuisine was outstanding. Wow. We've already found some Cretan Olive Oil and Mountain Tea back home
CaptCanuck is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 06:41 AM
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This sounds super!
TDudette is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 07:55 AM
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We are leaving for this exact same trip in 3 weeks (although in Crete we're just staying in Chania and for 4 nts and Iraklion for 1)- so I hope you'll continue your trip report to include Santorini, Naxos and Athens! The restaurant tips were especially useful. Did you find any wonderful crafts or shopping? Keep writing, please!
el13207 is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 08:03 AM
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Hi Capt Canuck, thanks for the trip report. Its very similar to a trip we took last year. Greece is fabulous! We were in the middle of strikes in Athens and British Airways strikes but its amazing how my memory has forgotten those details. Hope your ferry to Santorini was less eventful then ours. My DH spent the whole trip on the floor in the bathroom due to seasickness - about 75% of the people were seasick. Very scary, however Santorini is one of the most beautiful places I've seen so far. Incidentially where did you find the Olive Oil in Vancouver? We are from Vancouver Island/
Colleen is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 08:27 AM
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Welcome home Captain. I am glad you had a great experience
thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your next installments.

Colleen you can get 3 liter cans of Cretan olive oil at Great Canadian Superstore about $21.
stanbr is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 08:51 AM
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Thanks for the Superstore tip stanbr! We bought ours here in Vancouver at one of the Greek Delis....Minerva's. We were also excited to find a Greek bakery on that same block that made our favourite Cretan dessert...a wonderful cake flavoured with orange whose name escapes me.

As for shopping,..you will certainly find lots of shopping in Chania el13207, although shops not near the harbour were closed on Sunday. Santorini had some wonderful jewellery and art as well.

More to come..
cheers,
CC
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Aug 22nd, 2011, 01:44 PM
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Santorini:


We arrived in Santornini for our four night stay where our hotel had sent a taxi to pick us up, and they weren't on strike in Santorini?!?!? We arrived in Oia for our stay at Esperas Houses. As we walked through the winding streets, it felt as if we were in a surreal dream. We simply couldn't stop looking around and gawking at the stunning sights before us. We loved staying at Esperas Houses as it was even better than advertised on their web site. Our little 'house' was on two levels like a loft, with two decks. Stunning. There was also a little kitchen so we returned to our 'house' each day for a home made lunch (thanks to the great bakery near the bus stop and produce stand close to that too) and enjoyed watching the water. The staff were friendly and helpful and the hotel is situated so you can watch the stunning sunset from your own deck. Wow. We so enjoyed beginning each evening wtih watching the sunset and seeing the crowds who had gathered to watch the sunset burst into applause each night as the sun went down.

We were so glad we stayed in Oia. We loved it and it certainly didn't seem as busy as Fira. We spent our days wandering throughout the town and also took the very convenient bus to visit Fira one day which we enjoyed as a day trip. On another day we walked down to Ammoudi for a beautiful swim and then hiked over to another beach, Kothares I think, which was stunning.

We had some great dinners as well. Roka and Ochre Wine Bar were the most memorable ones (even though they were quite different from each other!) but Skala and Kypriad were also nice. We enjoyed wandering through the streets in the evening as nothing seemed to close, no matter how late it was! There were many beautiful jewellery shops and small galleries that we enjoyed browsing through during the day (I enjoyed the air conditioning of some particularly!) and evening.

We loved that our hotel was a bit removed from all of the hustle and bustle of evening and we always enjoyed a quiet walk back. Santorini was as magical as we dreamed it could be. The colours, the churches, the amazing artisans, the great food, the stunning views...I could go on and on. Wow. There is no better word to describe Santorini even though I have used it far too many times in the preceding paragraphs!

After 4 wonderful nights, we enjoyed a last morning of relaxation before taking the Blue Star Ferry to Naxos for our final island destination.
CaptCanuck is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 04:44 PM
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Bookmarking for my trip next year! Thanks for including such great detail!
saige is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2011, 10:59 PM
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Fabulous! Great trip report - and just in time for my mid-September trip!

Paule
progol is online now  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 07:11 AM
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Naxos:

It was time to leave Santorini and on to our next adventure. On a return visit, I would certainly try and explore the wineries as that area looked quite intriguing. We caught the Blue Star to Naxos, and, on a side note, on our earlier ferry and this one, we travelled business class and it seemed worth the little extra money those tickets cost as the business class cabins on each ferry were only about half full and a bit more relaxing. We had ordered our ferry tickets in advance from Amphitrion Holidays via email and had picked them up at Athens Airport.

We arrived in Naxos, where once again the taxis weren't on strike even as the strike elsewhere continued, and arrived at the Nissaki Beach Hotel for our three night stay. We probably could have walked there had we researched in advance where our hotel was in proximity to the ferry, but ah well!

Once again, Naxos was so different from the previous islands we stayed. It certainly felt like less of a 'seasonal' place like Santorini, and we loved how every evening the walkway by the harbour was filled with couples walking, families with their children, kids riding their bikes, seniors with their grandkids, and tourists like us. We ended up each evening on the harbour as we took Tejana's recommendation to go to the wonderful Citron bar each evening for a post dinner drink of Citron and people watching.

During our days, we loved wandering through the narrow streets of the town and getting lost within them as we explored the many interesting shops and galleries. We watched the sunset every evening by the amazing temple door overlooking the water and the sunsets even rivalled Santorini's. We enjoyed some great meals at Meze Meze, Kastro (our favourite..thanks stanbr!), Smyrneiko (great seafood lunch!), and Typografio.

We got the bus one day and decided on Plaka as our beach day. We hadn't been able to decide between Plaka and Agios Prokopios until the woman at the bus station thought we would like Plaka best! We just absolutely loved it there. It was absolutely beautiful. Nothing like enjoying some Mythos beer, purchased for 1.5 euro from the store across the sandy street, and sitting just steps from the crystal clear water.

We enjoyed our stay at the Nissaki Beach hotel. Breakfasts were very nice as we ate each morning on their patio on St. George Beach. We enjoyed morning walks on St. George and spent a couple of hours there one afternoon. It's not as nice as Plaka, but we enjoyed spending time there more than the hotel pool, espcecially since the hotel pool could use a few more lounge chairs.

It took us a night to warm up to Naxos, but we certainly fell under its spell with its lively atmosphere, especially in the evenings, and really enjoyed our stay. After three nights, we then caught a flight the next day to Athens for our final two nights, where one final 'adventure' awaited us. I definitely have a good story to tell about that one!
CaptCanuck is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 01:03 PM
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Athens:

For our final leg of the trip, we caught a flight to Athens. Wow, that airport in Naxos is small! The taxi strike was still on, so we decided to take the Metro. We boarded the Metro, and it was quite busy because of the strike. It continued to get more and more busy with each stop and we had no where to sit. Can you see where this story is going? My wallet was secured in a buttoned up pocket on my left leg and I was always conscious and aware that it was there. But as we approached our final stop, and as it got more crowded and we were stepping back and forth to let people through, someone got into my pocket and there went my wallet! As soon as we arrived at our stop, I knew that it was gone, but it was obviously too late to do anything. I have travelled in destinations like Barcelona, Prague, Florence, and Rome...all pickpocketing hotspots, and I thought I was prepared and cautious..but I had never been in a metro that crowded where I stood out as a tourist with our suitcases. A hard lesson to learn. I won't ever forget that feeling when it dawned on me that my wallet was gone.

We went to the police station in the Metro, but they just told us to report it to the main station in Athens, which we never bothered doing. We then got on my cell phone, and quickly cancelled the two credit cards and bank card that was in my wallet. Unfortunately, my wife had fogotten her bank card at home. As well, her Visa had been compromised before our trip, so her Visa wasn't along. And once I cancelled my Mastercard, hers was cancelled as well. All we had left were our passports thankfully and one American Express card without a PIN number as we never use that card. Some good lessons were learned here about separating cash, bringing two bank cards, and having a PIN number in place for every credit card!

We arrived about an hour and half late to our hotel, the Ava Hotel, as we also got lost along the way, adding insult to injury!

Luckily, everything turned around once we arrived at Hotel Ava. The two clerks who greeted us were so sympathetic to our plight and quite intent on showing us that the pickpocketing incident is not representative of Athens. Fortunately they took American Express! We asked if they could add 100 Euro to our bill in order to give us some cash, but they indicated they would have to check with their absent manager as such policies are not common to them and in Greece they indicated they ran the risk of being suspected of fraud for such transactions. They found us a restaurant that took American Express, Strofi, which was a relaxing end to our frenetic afternoon and evening. Yiannis and Dimitra had also sent us up a complimentary bottle of champagne before we left for dinner in order properly welcome us to Athens. Yiannis continued to reassure us that everything would be fine with securing some Euros.

The next morning, Yiannis informed us that he had checked and that the Acropolis did not accept credit cards which was the main site we had been hoping to visit. He then told us he would then go ahead and give us the 100 Euros and add it to our bill. He had not yet heard from his manager who was travelling, but he told us that he was leaving the job in a week, and what would they do..fire him? He also told us that she (his manager) liked him and that he didn't anticipate any problems. With many thanks, we took our 100 Euros and began our day in Athens, visiting the Acropolis (wow), wandering through neighbourhoods, visiting the site around Hadrian's Arch, exploring Plaka, while carefully spending our money!

Yiannis recommended the restaurant Tzitzikas kai Mermigas for dinner if we were looking for something with less of a tourist presence, and it was fantastic. Best of all was our stay at the Hotel Ava which was as good as all the raves on Trip Advisor. It was truly an oasis within busy Athens and we returned there frequently throughout the day to cool off and relax before embarking on our next adventure. The rooms were spacious, all with kitchenettes, and we had a great little balcony to enjoy our champagne that evening before heading out for dinner. The hotel is quite central yet on a quiet section of a street making it a perfect location. While we have not yet forgotten the pickpocketing incident, the kindness of everyone at Hotel Ava is what we will most remember about our time in Athens as they truly saved our last few days in Greece.

The next morning, we warily boarded the Metro again, but it was Sunday morning and very quiet, although we seemed to suspect everyone standing around us (including the two gentleman in dark sunglasses) of being a potential pickpocket! Ah well..it's not like I had anything for them to steal! We spent all but one euro, thanks to the costly lemonades I bought the previous stay to stave off the heat! I should have just bought some white wine..it would have been cheaper! We boarded our flight back on our ill equipped Air Canada plane...I say ill equipped because much like the plane that got us to Athens there were no seat back tv's, just the large movie screen in the middle of the cabin...I felt like I was back in the 70's. Do any other airlines have the same ancient planes for a 10 hr flight? These truly were the flights where we needed some personal in flight entertainment. It was strange because the second leg of our trip from Toronto and Montreal to Vancouver all were well equipped, yet those flights were only 4.5 hours, but for the 10 hour flight we get the ancient plane? Anyhow, my thoughts on Air Canada are another matter entirely.

Unfortunately, I do need to end my trip report on a sad note as our first trip to Greece will always be tied to what happened next. We arrived back home to discover that our sweet dog had suddenly taken ill during our absence. She had been staying with my parents. They had taken her to the vet a week prior due to some symptoms that had progressed from her heart murmur, coughing and difficulty breathing, but she had bounced back. Or so we thought, as the night we got back, her symptoms returned. We took her to the emergency vet clinic, and 5 hours later, despite walking in on her own steam, she was gone, as she succumbed to congestive heart failure at the too young age of eight. The medicine that she had been on the past number of months hadn't been enough to stave off the rapid progression of her illness. Ironically, our wonderful dog died of a heart that was too big, which was fitting for our Ruby. As a result, our return home led to a 48 hr. period with little to no sleep and the relaxation of Greece seemed a long time ago. We comforted ourselves with knowing that she had held on and waited until she could see us one more time.

Three weeks later though, we continue to smile when we chat about our trip and share our discoveries with our friends. We have travelled throughout Europe, but this was our favourite trip by far thanks to the stunning scenery, the friendliness and warmth of the Greek people, and the incredible food. We're not sure we want to go anywhere else in Europe now because we are wondering what could compare! We are enjoying finding various Cretan specialties in our local Greek Markets and we have enjoyed cooking with Santorini Fava and Cretan Herbs.

And on the dog front? Through a bit of a random coincidence, we ended up connecting with our dog's original breeder. She had moved and we did not have her current contact information. Once we connected with her, we found out that a litter of new pups was soon to be available, with those pups related distantly to our dog! It seemed a bit soon to us, but the coincidence of it all made it seem like it was meant to be. As I type this trip report, fondly recalling our incredible trip to Greece, I have a 10 week old pup sleeping at my feet.
CaptCanuck is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 01:36 PM
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What a wonderful, beautiful trip report! Your joy and wonder of your time in Greece shine through the maddening (having your wallet stolen) and poignant (your beloved pet passing so soon after your return) events.

We are leaving in less than a month and your report has made our anticipation even worse! I'm bookmarking this page so I can remember the restaurants you so enjoyed.

Thank you for taking the time to share your wonderful memories. I hope you enjoy your new little puppy for a long, long time.

Jo
ParisJo is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 01:37 PM
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Oops, forgot to add.........your comments about Air Canada make me really happy we are flying Air France out of Montreal!
ParisJo is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 02:37 PM
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Sure...rub it in! I'm glad you found the report useful. Have a great time!
CaptCanuck is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 05:03 PM
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Oh, boo. My nonstop return flight on Continental was cancelled and now I will be flying home with Air Canada, stopping in Toronto on way back to Newark. I've been really frustrated with the change, but nothing I can do...makes me even more pissed to read about the airline. Ah well, those are the risks...at least my flight going to Greece is still nonstop.
progol is online now  
Aug 23rd, 2011, 08:24 PM
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Be sure to download some movies on your iPad then...that's what we did on our way back!
Cheers,
CC
CaptCanuck is offline  
Aug 24th, 2011, 01:44 AM
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How nice that you were able to get some money at the Athens hotel! Greece was the first overseas trip hubs and I took together. We loved the beauty and the food. If there was a metro in Athens in the 1980s we were not aware of it.

Sorry about your pooch-no good words for it. Enjoy the new one and thanks for the TR.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 24th, 2011, 01:58 AM
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What a lovely report! I've been to some of the places you wrote about and I'm glad you enjoyed them too.

As far as the airlines goes, I had a fabulous holiday in the US earlier this year and we flew Air Canada from Toronto - Vancouver - Honolulu and both flights were fabulous (well as fabulous as economy can be). Honolulu - Sydney was with Qantas and is also a 10 hour flight. We were in the same predicament as you with no individual entertainment units. We were lucky in that at least we could see the tv's, if we'd been a few rows further forward we wouldn't have been able to see. It was a very long flight and Qantas should be ashamed.

I'm sorry to hear about your dog, but I'm sure the new puppy will fill the gap.
cathies is offline  
Aug 24th, 2011, 02:08 AM
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Great idea, CC!

And thank you for a wonderful trip report - very helpful as I'm now leaving in - yikes! - 3 weeks!

Paule
progol is online now  
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