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Trip report: Just back from Santorini, Crete, and Athens (Part II)

Trip report: Just back from Santorini, Crete, and Athens (Part II)

May 31st, 2006, 04:33 PM
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Trip report: Just back from Santorini, Crete, and Athens (Part II)

Part II Crete

We loved Crete and can't wait to go back.

We took the high speed catamaran from Santorini to Crete. The catamaran was about 45 minutes late getting into Crete since they had difficulty in loading all of the luggage in Santorini. At one point, the captain said enough is enough, and some people were left to trying to lug their own luggage up the gangplank. As I mentioned in my previous post, it's well worth the 12 Euros/pp. extra to purchase the business class tickets. While we were upstairs in relative comfort, the folks downstairs in economy class were pretty crowded and having some words over seats, luggage space, etc. I was surprised by the level of comfort on the catamaran--almost more like an airline. Very nice and great ride, albeit very bumpy. Lots of the children got seasick and the purser was very nice in going around checking on everyone and handing out seasickness bags. Luckily, we don't get seasick--if you do, you'll want to be prepared.

The rental car company had told us that the car pickup was at the port--but they neglected to tell us it was about 10 blocks from the port and with a lot of luggage and nearing dusk, we decided to take a taxi to pick up the car. An easy drive (1 hour 15 min--all autoroute) later, we were pulling up to our hotel, the Blue Palace near Elounda (Eastern Crete). The Blue Palace is actually on the far side of Elounda and closer to Plaka (directly across from the island of Spinalonga).

The Blue Palace is beyond words. Usually, we stay at smaller hotels, but we chose the Blue Palace because of the available amenities (It was initially a toss-up between the Blue Palace and the Elounda Mare/Palace,etc. group). While it was much larger than we would like, the location was fantastic. Our room had a private infinity pool and looked out over Spinalonga. Included in the rate, is a luscious breakfast buffet with almost anything you can imagine (poached eggs with spinach, grilled tomatoes, crepes, omelets, a wide variety of pastries, fruits, charcuterie, cheeses, etc.).

The first day, we decided to relax and stay at the hotel, enjoying the spa and beach. You take a small incline from the top of the hotel down to the spa and beach. After a few spa treatments, my husband joined me for a cycle in the thalassotherapy pools. This was my first time doing the cycles as opposed to a bath and I loved it. So much that I booked another session later in the week. There are freshwater and seawater outdoor pools, as well as a heated freshwater pool in the spa. The beach is very rocky and the water was freezing! The days were blistering hot (actually the temperature was lower than it is here in Texas, but it felt a lot hotter!), but the nights cooled off and were quite nice (a good deal warmer than Santorini). We had a nice fish dinner at Poulis on the harbor in Elounda.

The next day, we set off for the western side of the island. My husband is a huge WWII buff and planned a full day of WWII site visits. It took us about 2.5-3 hours to go from Elounda to Maleme to first visit the German War Cemetery. The cemetery is located on the very hill that the Allies fought so hard to defend only to lose to the German forces. As it was almost 65 years to the day of the battle, there were several large groups visiting.

From there, we drove along the coast and into Chania. We grabbed a light lunch at the restaurant right next to the Mosque at the old harbor (can't remember the name). We were eating late (2:30pm) and the restaurant was actually full of locals, not tourists. I had the tabbouleh salad which was excellent!

Chania has a cute Venetian harbor and loads of markets/shopping, but it was a little touristy for my tastes. We walked up to visit Casa Delfino (which looks very nice) since friends of our had stayed there and recommended it, but I prefer to be much further out and away from the commotion.

Leaving Chania, we headed to the Commonwealth War Cemetery near Souda Bay. To our surprise, they were holding a wreath laying ceremony which began soon after our arrival and the presenters included our own USS Enterprise aircraft carrier group (CVN 65). It was a very nice ceremony and we were so proud to see our boys/girls in action.

Then we headed back to Elounda and grabbed a quick dinner of mezedes at another restaurant (can't remember the name) along the harbor--everyone was throwing the leftover bread into the harbor to bring out the fish in the lighted waters--we even got to see some squid and sea turtles!

The next day, we headed to Knossos to visit the palace. I will have to say that this was the biggest disappointment of the trip for me. The British archaelogist who discovered the site had his own ideas about what he thought Knossos should/did look like and they've done a lot of reconstruction on certain parts of the palace. Apparently, it's been quite controversial. I'd have preferred to see the ruins/remains without the modern interpretation.

Then we drove on to visit the Crete Golf Club so my husband could head to the driving range. If you're a golfer, you should try to play the course. It appears to be very difficult, but some of the views are fantastic.

We made a short stop at the Monastery of St. George Selinari (between Malia and Neapolis). This is actually a very small monastery and directly on the New National Road--but there's something about this place. We walked around, took some pictures, lit some candles, but I left with such a feeling of peace that was different than anything I've felt before. It was so peaceful that it's difficult to accurately describe it. But you feel so good when you leave here. We hadn't planned on stopping, but it was one of the highlights for me.

Then we headed back to Elounda with a brief stop in Agios Nikolaos. The harbor here is mich larger than in Elounda, but it's very nice and much quieter than Chania. There's both an inner harbor and an outer harbor (it almost reminded me of Lucerne/Zurich and how the rivers/bridges feed into the lake). I preferred it to Chania and we were glad that we decided to stay on the Eastern side of the island.

The next day, we also stayed at the hotel for another spa/beach day. Divine!

On the way to the airport the final day, we stopped in Malia to view the ruins here. Also from the same period as Knossos, these ruins have not been reconstructed and I got a better feel for what it was like. There are tons of ruins everywhere all over Greece and the islands. So I'm sure whatever ones you choose to visit you'll find educational.

We flew from Heraklion to Athens on Aegean and the difference in the planes between our previous flight on Olympic was like night and day. The Aegean plane was a large Boeing 737, new, clean, and very efficient. An uneventful short hop over to Athens!
LoriS is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 05:29 PM
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It really is better to post all the parts of a trip report on the same thread. Otherwise they get separated and folks only see segments of the report . . . . . .
janisj is online now  
Jun 1st, 2006, 05:41 PM
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I'm planning my honeymoon to Crete then Santorini for the end of july-ealry august. I appreciate your information--have you heard anything about the elounda bay palace? is it appropriate for honeymooners or are there lots of families? thanks!
aniab72 is offline  
Jun 1st, 2006, 07:05 PM
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janisj- thanks for the hint. I copied this to my earlier post.

aniab72- we didn't visit Elounda Bay Palace, but it appeared that there were a lot of families at all of the resorts in this area. However, I wouldn't let that detract you. At Blue Palace, the kids were mostly at the kiddie pool--not at the beach; the spa didn't allow kids under 14; and kids weren't at the bars. The only time we typically saw a lot of kids was at breakfast--we usually ate later (8:30-9pm, so I'm guessing that the little ones were in bed by then).
LoriS is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2006, 11:55 AM
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Hi LoriS:

I read one of your posting on your trip to St. Petersburg and that you employeed a private guide for various excursions. My wife and I were thinking about using private guide for two of us when we visit St. Petersburg this year. May I ask what tips should be give to the private guide and the driver each day for two of us? Should we give the tips each day or wait till the end of our visit to St. Petersburg?

Any suggestions would be gretaly appreciated.

Thanks,

sgsg
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Jun 3rd, 2006, 01:12 PM
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Lori

lovely report. I suspect when you check, you'll dscover your were at Souda on the anniversary of the battle of Crete, which is makred by the allies every year.

The cemetery at Souda is beautiful, and normally so peaceful. It breaks your heart to see all those gravestones- especially those with no name.
sheila is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2006, 05:07 PM
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sgsg- we used two separate guides on two separate days in St. Petersburg. So we tipped at the end of each day with each respective guide roughly US$20.

Sheila-yes, my husband specifically planned the trip to concur with the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Creek. The main fighting began on 20th May--we were a few days later in visiting, so were pleasantly surprised we were able to observe one of the ceremonies. We always try to visit the WWII cemeteries (both the Allied and the German ones) wherever we go. They are great places to reflect what others have sacrificed for us.
LoriS is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2006, 08:07 PM
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LoriS:

Thanks for the reply. Just one more question: did you also tip the driver? if so, how much?

Thanks,

sgsg
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Jun 4th, 2006, 12:22 AM
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Lori

Sorry; my posting must have sounded very patronising.

I spend a bit of time on the forum on explorecrete.com, and there are some real experts on the subject of the Battle of Crete there, including veterans who go every year
sheila is offline  
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