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Crete Trip Report (*long*)
Old 09-14-2012, 04:30 PM   #1
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Crete Trip Report (*long*)

I’ve traveled a lot and realize that I could possibly help someone with my knowledge, so decided to go ahead and write a trip report on my last trip. It started out as a business trip to Odense, Denmark, and then ended up with a week vacation in Crete. I do get the benefit of having as an option the use of the US military facilities overseas, but that is not always the case as I don’t always travel to where the military has facilities and I only get to use them on a standby basis. In the case of this trip, I was able to use them, however, I also used the local facilities. If you have any specific questions about Crete or Europe, PM me and I’ll gladly help if I can.

My husband and I bought our tickets from Frankfurt to Iraklio (Heraklion) a few months ago. We had some long layovers in Thessaloniki going down and Athens coming back. My husband does extensive overseas traveling and as a result has a high level airline perk card which gets us into all of the airport lounges. I have not had that luxury and it is indeed a luxury. The lounges made the waiting much more palatable. There was free wi-fi, food, newspapers and comfortable seats. The level of amenities one gets in the lounges in Europe as compared to those in the US is much higher. For example, we had great Greek food and wine while waiting in the Lufthansa lounge in Thessaloniki. I’ve also done some research and many super-peripatetic travelers will buy memberships to the clubs just for some of the comfort afforded with the lounges when having long layovers.

We arrived very late to Iraklio and picked up our rental car. Crete is a bit like visiting Mexico – the cars are beat up, the road rules are lax (people passed all the time in the middle of the road and you moved over to the side), however, it works if you go with the flow. The main national highway is very curvy and you won’t go too fast as you are navigating the curves. It reminded me of driving along the CA coast with the cliffs and water – gorgeous – however, our first night it was tiring. We had rooms at the Souda Bay Navy Support Activity quarters near Chania….and that was a challenge to find late at night, too.

The next day we woke up and I went to go find out how we were going to get to the Samaria Gorge for a hike. I found out that there was another gorge we could hike called Imbros which was shorter (Samaria is 18 km (11 mi)). I also found out there was an outdoor rec trip for the next day. However, we would have to hope that two people would not show up who had signed up as the bus was already full from the base……so at 0630 the next morning we hoped that two young sailors had enjoyed Friday night too much to wake up – we were lucky and so went with that group to the Samaria Gorge. Nevertheless, for someone who wanted to do it themselves, it was not too difficult as you would go to downtown Chania to the bus station and take the bus to Samaria.

We took the drive up the mountains to the top entry to the Gorge (that reminded me of the roads in the Andes – lots of switchbacks, narrow roads and crossing of fingers the oncoming traffic wasn’t cutting any corners!) – we got there around 0900, had some breakfast, bought our tickets (it’s a national park in Greece) and started down. It was a very nice hike, although at times demanding. It took us about 4.5 hours to get down. It starts out as switchbacks with some wooden railings and stair-stepping. Once you have descended fairly fast, you begin the walk in the gorge. You are essentially walking along the riverbank and at times in the riverbank. You cross the river a few times (at this time of the year, the river was more like a creek) on rickety wooden ladders. At times the gorge walls are fairly narrow, and that’s where the best pictures are, of course. When you go through the gates at the end of the gorge, there is still another 2 km to go until you get to the small seaside village Chora Svakia from which you take your ferry (have to buy another ticket) to where you pick up a bus to take you back to Chania. That last 2 km is loooong.

This hike is not super hard, but it is long – you need good shoes, some water, although there are springs along the way of potable water to fill up your water bottle, and time. It is an all-day affair. It is beautiful and the beach dip at the end is great along with the Greek food at the different tavernas in Chora Svakia. Food always tastes better after a good workout. It was at times slippery even in the dry and sunny day we were hiking – it could be treacherous in rainy times. In the end it was worth it, *however*, we both had difficulty walking up or down stairs and getting up out of cars, bed or chairs if we sat too long due to our aching calves and quads. This hike is not for the unfit, for sure.

On Sunday, we started out going to local grocery stores to purchase Greek olive oil and spices and then we went into Chania for coffee, dinner and shopping. Crete has an interesting history from the Minoans, the Romans, the Turks, the Venetians and today. There is also a significant Byzantine influence. Chania is a port with a nice lighthouse built by the Venetians. We enjoyed our dinner, helped the Greek economy a bit by shopping and took some pics of the harbor and surrounds.

Monday we did a field trip to Phaesto (or Festo) and Knossos. It involved about 4-5 hours of driving, but it was interesting. We both enjoyed Phaestos more as it was located on top of a hill overlooking a plain with the mountains in the background. It also was not ‘re-interpreted’ by the archaeologist, like Knossos. In fact we spent much more time at Phaestos than Knossos, even though the entry fee for Phaestos was less. What was amazing about these sites was the intricate engineering in the palace (they had sewers!) and the society/civic customs for a civilization that was 3000 years old. Nothing humbles you more than walking around someplace that people walked around and lived in thousands of years ago. This was even older than Athens and Rome. We breezed through Knossos then drove back to Chania.

Tuesday was beach day – we went to a very pretty beach off the north tip of Akrotiri, snorkeled and then had one of our best meals at a beach shack. Turns out it was the beach where “Zorba the Greek” was filmed. I remember that movie dragged on and Zorba spent a lot of time just sitting on the beach in the movie. Zorba was written by Nikos Kazantzakis, who was an interesting guy in Cretan history. He was ex-communicated by the Greek Orthodox church for some of his writings and when he died his body was in limbo for a few years before they finally allowed him to be buried in Iraklio.

Wednesday we drove to Iraklio and stayed at the Hotel Kronos – a nice place for $68 a night. We walked through the streets of Iraklio and ate dinner there – we had a very early flight to Athens the next morning. Iraklio has a similar history to Chania, is on the coast with a port – there was significantly more tourists there due to the cruise ships stopping there. We went to the museum which houses the artifacts from all of the archaeological sites, however, it was a limited display due to the museum being under construction. The most interesting thing there was the Phaestos disc, which is sort of a two-sided Rosetta stone of hieroglyphics which has not yet been translated. There were also a few of the frescoes from the sites which showed the Minoan culture. If you are truly interested in good museums of the Greek culture, I thought the one I went to in Thessaloniki had the most stuff on display. It also had a *lot* of gold on display from the Macedonian era. The museum near the Parthenon in Athens was OK, although I liked the layout and accessibility of the museum in Thessaloniki better.

The weather was good while we were there, although the day of our hike, there was quite a wind storm that made the ferry ride sporting. Even the sailors were saying it was very windy. The sea spray was lifting off the surface of the water and misting everything. It was an amazing sight.

Costs – our hotel costs were cheaper due to our stay on the navy base, however, the cost for the hotel in Iraklio would be a good representative of a 2-3 star hotel accommodation in Crete. The rental car was dirt cheap – about $160 for one week. The gas costs were typical European costs – 1.89 euro per liter, so ~8 euro per gallon which equates to ~$10-$12 gallon – ouchies all around on the gas. Food costs were minimal. We had good dinners with .5 liter of wine, salad, main course and an appetizer for 30-40 Euro for two people. Breakfast is included in most European hotel costs. We bought our souvenirs mostly at the grocery story. It is cheaper than buying it at the airport…..olive oil and Greek spices. You could also buy olive based lotions and other cosmetic stuff, pottery indicative of the Minoan style, and all kinds of other yick-yacks (T-shirts, bracelets, scarves, jewelry).

All in all, we really did enjoy this trip. It was longer than we normally spend in one place on vacation. We went mainly for the gorge hike, but enjoyed the extra things we did as well. We did not visit any monasteries while we were there – there are quite a few, so if you are interested in that aspect of their history, you could see quite a few of them. Some of them are in quite remote places, so it would be a tough climb in and out. Last few general comments: Crete was quite a rugged landscape – very mountainous and dry with lots of olive trees. The architecture was not what you see in quintessential pictures from Greece. However, you can take a day trip to Santorini via ferry to see the whitewashed villas with blue roofs, if you wish. The people in Crete were very friendly and I noticed when I thanked them and said hello in their language they smiled broadly and answered in Greek. The words “good morning” (kalimera), “please” (palakalo) and “thank you” (efkalisto) are fairly easy to remember and say. They were not as aggressive regarding selling as you would see in Turkey and Morocco. Lastly, if you majored in math or engineering, you will find that you can read most of the Greek signs or at least sound out the Greek words (although signage was in both Greek and English, thank goodness).
Deserat aka Bridget
“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” - George Orwell/Winston Churchill
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