Opa! Days 3-6: Crete

2014-07-22 20.09.07We left Athens early Sunday morning to head to Crete. The metro in Athens was an asset for getting us direct to the airport, but it was a long trek, so we were glad to have left over an hour early. We arrived in Chania around 10a. I will say that it is very unnerving to be in a place where you can’t even read the words, nevermind saying them. The Grecian alphabet only has 20 letters instead of the standard 26 of the Roman alphabet. So when we flew in to Chania, we had to learn that we were in “Han-ya” not “Chan-eia” and that it isn’t spelled Chania in Greek but Xania. The Greek alphabet doesn’t have the letter “C.”

This was especially confusing since there are still a fair amount of tourists who come to Greece, so things were spelled with the Greek letters, with the Roman letters and then phonetically. So, the other airport of Heraklion was also spelled with an “I” on some street signs. 

We managed to get the airport shuttle to city center which would then get us to Rethymno or Rithimno. We would then get on another bus toward Panormo, where we were staying.

We picked this town mainly because it was remote enough to be far away from the Cretian party scene, but not unattainable…in a car. The buses made it a little more difficult to get there with all the transfers and time spent. I will say thank goodness for air conditioning in buses though. London has the public transport system all wrong. Air conditioning is vital for long rides in the summer.

We made it to Panormo and started walking toward our hotel which we booked through Airbnb.com. As we trekked on the burning asphalt, our host, Manilos, met us halfway and offered to drive us the rest of the way to Taverna Kastro. This was a beacon of light and we took it gratefully. Our host was incredibly polite and welcoming. He showed us our room and offered to have a drink with us that evening in his restaurant that was conveniently on the hotel’s property.

The room was all right. It was not quite the same luxury style we had in Athens, but it would do. I told Jeff, “the worst place in Paradise is still in Paradise,” but it wasn’t the worst place either. The shower didn’t have the nozzle mounted to the wall, so when you stand in the smaller-than-a-phone-booth square, you have to hold it above you. But also, the water heater is solar powered. So in order to get hot water, you’d have to shower before the rest of the guests or in the evening. But then again, with such hot days ahead, we almost enjoyed the cold showers.

Almost.

2014-07-20 19.31.50That evening, after a long nap, we decided to tour around a little bit and see what town we were staying in.  We walked the coast at sunset and took in the salty air. The silence was deafening. Seriously, deafening. Being from Texas, we are no strangers to cicadas. My goodness, this was like a cicada convention to see who could and would be the loudest bug in town.

The next day, we headed directly to the beach. We found a little cove that wasn’t too close to the bigger beaches but near our hotel where you could rent a couple lounge chairs for €7 for the entire day. We parked ourselves and didn’t move until near sunset that evening. With direct sunlight and my fair skin, we reapplied sunblock every hour and only walked out with a little pinkness and some light tanlines. I was really happy about that since I had no desire to writhe in bed after scorching myself.

There were others on the beach who did not take the same caution. Nor did a few people take caution in not flashing us. Several children2014-07-20 19.28.17 felt the freedom of the sea air running around without bikini tops on. We weren’t bothered too much by this as they were just kids, but one our second day to the beach, there was a small girl–about 7–who felt the need to be free as a jaybird only wearing water-wings. We actually found ourselves laughing most of the time because she would race from the water to her parents who much have been stationed behind us. One instance where she bolted toward the water, she nearly ran smack into a man playing beach tennis. The look on the man’s face was priceless as he stumbled back to not run smack into a naked child running free.

However, there were a few adults who gave us quite a revealing show as well. The sun was positioned right behind us for the better part of the afternoon, so when women would come and lay on the beach, they wanted to face the UV rays. This meant their open legs were in our prime view. One woman in particular had her knees bent and such a revealing suit, I couldn’t remember if we were at the beach or at a gynecologist’s office.

Despite the brazen babies and sunbathing broads, the beach was incredible. The water was cool and an extraordinary blue. We couldn’t spot any fish, but we had our fair share of seaweed which, as it turns out, is a great material for making little balls for catching and throwing in the waves.

IMG_1489Our day in between lounging, we decided to head to Knossos. We had to first go to Heraklion, but it wasn’t until 9:24am did we find out the bus only comes once an hour at 20 past the hour. We sat outside in the sun waiting for the bus and when it finally came, it was still about an hour to Heraklion, and then an additional half hour (to go three miles) toward Knossos.

By the time we got there and had lunch, it was 2p and the sun was at its hottest. Our water tasted thick, if that makes sense, as we trudged through the barren ruins of the ancient palace. It was actually quite incredible to see this space that was built 5000 years ago, but there wasn’t much to see besides old rocks.

It was rather disappointing to see that when it was discovered in the 1800s, they had started to restore it then and there with inferior IMG_1491materials. So, it isn’t quite the same as it was and never will be thanks to early archaeologists. I couldn’t discern which was the original and which was the restoration which cheapens the experience for me. But we made it through and headed back toward the bus station where I nearly passed out from the heat. Jeff made us stay in the bus station for the 45 minutes until the next bus instead of seeing the Heraklion museum (which was the smartest decision).

2014-07-20 13.39.42The food we had in Greece never floored us. Previously, I mentioned the shoe leather squid, but the only good things we had were all the Greek salads. We both had more feta cheese than we ever had in our lives, but mixed with tomatoes, olives, onion, cucumbers, bell peppers and herbs, what better explosion of flavors?

One evening, we went to a place right on the water that had the worst service. It took them nearly half an 2014-07-22 21.48.43hour just to take our drink order. We were about to walk out if it wasn’t for the mesmerizing setting sun on the blue water. But we decided to order the mixed grill of fish. What they served us was grilled whole fish, heads and bones intact. It took us an additional half hour to try to eat the entire of ounce of fish meat we were able to pull from the bones. I gave up fighting and decided the three cats who had gathered around our table would fair better, so I decided to share my meal.

On our last evening, we ate at the Taverna Kastro, where we were staying. The host, Manilos, came over and shared a drink with us and shook our hands. We had our first glass of ouzo as well. Apparently, if you mix it with anything  but water, you’re a rookie. We both had tall tumblers of milky ouzo and sipped it slowly. It had a very strong anise flavor much like the absinthe in Paris. But it was enjoyable all the same. As we left the table, Manilos brought over a bottle Raki for us to take home and a ceramic bowl with the name of the hotel on it as a keepsake. He made me promise only good salad would go in that bowl. “Naturally,” I said as I thanked him.

We were floored by the attention he and his sons gave us with free drinks, dessert, and care whenever we were there. While the flat wasn’t the best room, the hospitality couldn’t be beat.

2014-07-24 14.07.08To catch our 530p flight, we left around 10a and trekked to the first of many bus stops. With a little time in Chania, we toured the tiny tourist trap and had some burned omelettes for breakfast and walked into a huge Greek Orthodox church in the town square. We walked down the pier and soaked in the last moments of blue water before heading back toward the airport.

We had a wonderful time in Greece and would highly recommend going off the beaten track for relaxation. Next time, we plan to go to another island and renting a car.

 

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