Round the Isle of Crete, Sept 2004
Wed, 15 Sept 2004, we set off for 18 days in Crete. As we would travel mostly by busand boat, the trip was planned in some detail. Essentially, we planned stops of about four days in each of Ágios Nikólaos (westward), Sitía (far east), Spili (inland south of Rethymno), Paleohóra and Soúgia on the south west coast and finally Iráklio ready for our return flight.
The flight from Munich was long, due to long stop in Thessalonika and change in Athens. Norma could not help noticing how short were the Cretans, especialy a pair of airport staff in Iráklio (Heraklion) who were shorter than her. Also noticable was the predominance of blond hair in the young people.
1. Agíos Nikolaus Sept '04
On arrival in Iráklio, we were easily tempted to take a taxi to Ágios Nikólaos for Euro 50 instead of waiting over an hour for a slow bus. (Ágios is a male saint, Ágia female - both prominent in the names of towns and villages on Crete.) We would have rather the taxi driver were not so fast: we were both hanging on to our seats as he cruised around bends at 130 kph, pushed "slow" cars and even buses off the road because he was a taxi. It took one hour to our apartment a few km out of &Aecute;gios Nikólaos, along the coast and above the holiday village of Chavania. As instructed, we climbed the (many) steps to the apartments. The owner was not there, but we found our apartment and settled in - very spacious with a view of the sea and, unfortunately, the sound of the road.
We had two bedrooms, large living room, kitchen and large balcony with an interesting stone table. The bathroom had a comically tiny corner, with shower head; we were to get used to this idea as some were even smaller. The owner came round later to welcome us, and recommended Taverna Olga for dinner. She said that it was a place where she and other Cretans enjoyed eating. It was about 400 meter walk along the road and opposite the beach at Chavania. Norma's Lamb Kleftiko was memorable - lamb and vegetables and seasonings cooked in a paper packet inside aluminium foil.
Thursday, we got up late. At 11 am, it was already a very hot walk to a nearby "mini supermarket" - really did not stock very much, but we managed to get basics for breakfast. We were to learn that this was fairly typical.
We breakfasted at our stone table, on our large balcony with a great view of Chavania and the sea. At first, we thought of a rest day: then changed our minds and decided to do a walk from Hamiló to Lató and Kritsa. First the bus to Ágios Nikólaos - every half hour - but unreliable. We waited ages in the hot sun, until finally the bus from Elounda arrived. We paid our Euro 2, and were taken to the port, through the town, then (to our dismay) up a long hill without stopping to the bus terminal at the back of beyond. Hot, without shade, no taxis, in fact nothing at all in the vicinity.
Ágios Nikólaos is famous for its internal Lake Voulismeni, joined by a small canal to the harbour. We headed for this, expecting that tourists would be there and taxis would be near tourists. We arrived at the cliffs above the lake(see below) and then down the steps to get a taxi to the start of the walk at Hamiló. The walk is described in "Kreta Ost", #4 - our first experience with this poor guidebook. Shortly after Hamílo, the described path was blocked by new buildings - we took an adjacent way signposted to Lato - turned into a small paved uphill road, less steep but longer than the correct route. We arrived at Lato - a historic Dorian site from 7th century BC - to find that it closed one hour ago at 3pm. Sitting by the gates, we were offered a lift back to Agíos, but declined as we wanted to walk on to Krítsa.
After reaching the main road, we could see Krítsa ahead across the valley. Quite a walk as we approached the village, uphill, hungry and thirsty - we stopped at the first Taverna. No name and no photos - just the memory of eating a great meal, alone on the back balcony, watching the sunset on the Lefti Ori. Norma had a memorable "baked Aubergine with Feta" - a reverse engineered version of which we eat often. (We went back to look for this place in 2005, and it had been converted into a café, the balcony turned into a place for a billiard table, and the owners running a Taverna in the town.) Then we asked the waitor to call us a taxi to go home (Euro 10).
Best to start our next day early to avoid the midday sun. We tried - missed the bus, waited almost an hour for the next one (30 minute service???). So it came to be 11 am and very hot when we started the walk, leaving from the harbour in Elounda. We were to walk from Elounda up to a ridge at Pinés, down through Kato Pines and below, then up to another ridge, down into a valley and back up to a road at Havgas and down the road to Plaka a few miles up the coast.
Stated height difference 330 metres sounded OK. The reality was that the walk was very long, made longer by all the side trips trying to find features of the landscape that no longer existed: walls, fences, gates, cobbled tracks to name a few. Even without the side trips, we are sure that both height and time estimates are rubbish.
The walk started out well, getting us out of Elounda and high onto the first ridge at Pinés. There it was incredibly windy - we were grateful as it mitigated the heat somewhat (midday by now). Norma had to fight to keep her glasses and the clip on sunglass part. There were several windmills on the ridge - one of them working, with the operator (who invited us inside) grinding wheat.
From there, we went down through the village. Reaching the next ridge was hard in the midday heat. And after this, almost no description of the way matched reality. The worst was just before we reached the road, going wrong several times - yet knowing that we were not far from the road that would take us down to Plaka, and it would have been a very long way to go back the way we had come. And we had no more food and little water. (We seem not to have been in a mood to take any pictures of this section.)
Somehow, we found a rarely travelled track that led us steeply uphill to the (dirt) road. Greatly relieved, we plodded towards Plaka - enjoying the scenery somewhat better now!
After a short time, we came to the hamlet of Havgas, and had views all the way down to the coast at Plaka - a long way down and a long way away.
The road was sometimes paved, sometimes dirt and slowly wound its way down to Plaka. Though thirsty, tired and hungry (in that order), seeing Plaka in the distance allowed us to enjoy the views now. We were often battling a huge wind on the way down.
We reached Plaka about 5 pm, the easy 2 1/2 hour walk had taken 6 hours.
Plaka has a stony beach tucked in the corner. Norma gave up the swim, being more interested in water and food. We resisted the first touristy Taverna, and fell into the second - Tavérna Spinalónga - a great find. The young waitor gave us much water and ice, then raki, then stuffed olive leaves and garlic mushrooms. Then we were invited into the kitchen to choose our red snapper, which was grilled for us and served with a huge and delicious Greek salad. Greek coffee and ouzo before we wandered through the village to the bus station - bus late as usual.
We were to do this walk again in 2005: using a different guide book with slightly more generous times. The side trips were just as many - though different. With the other book alone, I do not think we would have made it out. It took us 1/2 hour longer! And the meal at the Taverna Spinalónga was even better.
Saturday, 18th September, we move on to Sitía in the far north east of Crete. First, Norma enjoyed a last swim at Chavania - quiet in the early morning. Then to the bus station: as we were waiting for our local bus, a taxi with a Scottish couple inside offered to take us to the bus station for € 3 which we accepted.
We had a long time to watch the world go by here as the 12:00 bus did not appear until 12:30. It was a busy place as tourists mingled with many locals - the locals were loaded with food bought in the big city to take back to their villages in the mountains.
We had a bumpy ride on very winding mountain roads, high over the coast. The road climbed to high villages and descended to the coast several times before finally descending to Sitía a bit before 3 pm.
The bus station afforded a great view up to the town, which spread over its hillside. It was siesta time, very hot and 1 km uphill to our hotel, the "El Greco". No taxi was to be found - we called the hotel by cell phone and they sent us a taxi. At the hotel, we were greeted by the owner's son.
The owner also operated a farm, high in the hills above, where he grew grapes and made his own wine and very excellent rakí (a strong distilled spirit made from the must-residue of the wine press, known as Tsipouro in Greece). He was rightfully very proud of his rakí. At the right, you can see several views of the restaurant, the street, the people and a view back up the hill to El Greco.
As we stopped at the Kalí Kardiá on the way back we were entertained with guitar and song by the regulars.
It was a noisy night as the churchbells calling the faithful started soon after the Saturday night disco music stopped. We walked to where "The Lonely Planet" showed the bus station, aiming for the 11:30 bus, but no bus station was to be found. Later, we found the bus station and also learned that the bus had left 1/2 hour early! so we would have missed it anyway.
We had a swim at the beach, beyond the promenade, followed by a visit to the archeological museum. Back to the Kalí Kardiá for a late lunch of snails and greek salad, tomato salad and meat balls, followed by a siesta at the El Greco. Later, we walked up to the "Kazarma" (Venetian fortress, "Casa di Arma") - it was closed. Then back down to the church near "El Greco" - also closed. A walk along the seafront resulted in our being accosted by waiter after waiter, each trying to drag us into his restaurant. We resisted and returned to the "Kalí Kardiá". As usual, we were warmly greeted with some local titbits to start our meal: then for starters we shared hórta (cooked wild greens) and fasália (haricot beans), then lamb chops with local red wine. Afterwards, we were presented with free local fruit and raki! Back at the hotel, we chatted with the owner and he said that we must visit Moní Toploú. Accordingly, we figured out how we could manage the buses to go to Moní Toploú and Vai in our one remaining day in Sitia.
Monday, after cheese pies for breakfast at "Kalí Kardiá", we took the 9:30 bus to PalaÃkastro, getting off at the junction with the road to Moní Toploú and Ãtanos. We started up the 3 Km road (uphill) at 09:50, arrived at the monastery at 10:50. Yes, it was very lovely with very beautiful gardens and quite an interesting history.
Unfortunately, our visit was short as we needed to the 12:20 bus to continue to Vai.
We raced down the road and just caught the (on-time) bus to arrive at the beach at Vái at 12:50. Yes, it is a lovely beach surrounded by Cretan date palms. We had a snack at the "Restaurant Vai" above the south end of the beach - octopus salad and tuna ¡salad - reasonably priced despite the popularity and beauty of the spot. After lunch, we walked up to the view-point, looked into the next beach, and then down to the beach of fine pebbles. The beach also provided a small offshore island for Norma to swim around. Sad to leave such a beautiful place, we caught the 16:00 bus back in Sitía for a siesta.
In the evening, we walked on the seafront and then had dinner at "O Mihos" - the great food was spoiled by loud pop-music from adjacent restaurant. We ate zucchini balls, aubergine puree, squid in white wine sauce, and squid souvlaki.
We returned to "Kalí Kardiá" for a final rakí drank and sang with the locals until 24:45!!
For our third and last day in Sitia, we planned to walk down the Zakros gorge. After breakfast omelettes at the "Kalí Kardiá", we took the 11:00 bus to Zákros (only 10 minutes late) for the one hour journey to the small village of Zákros. At the start of the journey, the bus was full of locals carrying their shopping back to their villages. Later, only a few tourists remained.
The gorge is also known as "the gorge of the dead", as ancient Minoan burial tombs have been found there. Guide books suggest that the walk down this steep gorge should take about 2 hours - it took us longer mostly because of the difficulties of route finding. The route was hard to find right from the start: we took one wrong turn getting down into the gorge, had to back up, and were overtaken at the junction with the correct path by the same three obnoxious English youths who had been on the bus from Sití. We probably went wrong halfway down, as we found ourselves scrambling over great rocks and boulders with no signs. Then we met a dutch couple of our age coming up what was obviously the path. They continued up a different path than the one we had come down, and we assumed it must be the corect one. However, they came down again while we were taking a rest a little further down; said they couldn't find the way. We described how we had got down and told them what the paths were like higher up. and they decided to try again. Hope they made it! For us it seemed like a very long way down, with each turn of the gorge revealing another section and another bend. After the gorge finally opened out and the path levelled off, we went past the remnants of the Minoan palace (fenced in). Norma just had time for a quick swim from the unpleasantly stoney beach before we caught the 16:00 bus--the last one--to Sitía, getting there at 17:15.
We would have liked to have some cheese pies and rakí at Kardia, but they were closed. While Norma had a siesta, Keith searched the town for a replacement battery for the camera.
In the evening, we dined yet again at the Kalí Kardia: tomato salad, moussaka, pork chops. We invited the the boss (Manolis) for a good-bye rakí. Then he gave us 1/2 litre of his self-made rakí in a plastic bottle! It turned out to be *very* smooth.
3. Around Spili and Hania
A day of travelling: we were to travel by bus from Sitia in the east to Spili, south of Rethymno - roughly where the word "Rethymno" is on the map at the right - driving through Agios Nikolaos to change buses at Iraklio and again at Rethymno. The whole journey was uneventful and took about 8 hours, arriving at Spili at 6:30 pm.
We did get a two hour break between buses at Réthymno, so we left our luggage at the bus station and walked along the seafront towards the fortress. It was very hot, and we were hungry and there appeared the "Sunset Taverna". Recommended in the Lonely Planet for evening dining while watching the sunset, it was even better to sit under their shady trees right beside the sea and enjoy a leisurely lunch. The tables were right beside the harbour wall, the kitchen on the other side of the street under the fortress. The usual delicious Cretan foods were on offer: we chose meat balls, stuffed peppers, tomato salad, and white wine. After we paid the bill, the waitor returned across the street bearing glasses of raki! But we had a bus to catch - the waitor said "You should never rush when you are drinking!"
Arriving in the village of Spili at 6:30, we had a 500m walk with our luggage to "Costas Inn". It was run by a woman and a young Polish girl - no English at all was spoken here. The hotel was spacious (we had a shower large enough to go into, and with shower curtains), but very decrepit with constantly leaking plumbing keeping the bathroom floor wet.
After a rather late "siesta", we were lucky to find the "Taverna Stratidakis" still open for dinner. We sat on the balcony above the "new" car park and enjoyed a plate of mixed vegetables, souvlaki, lamb chops and local red wine. The raki was rough. We took a post-prandial stroll through the village to the "unique" Venetian fountain which spurts water from 19 lion heads", and then to bed.
This day we were to do a circular walk near Mixárrouma. The day really didn't start very well - we were waiting for the 09:30 bus to Mixárrouma, but were told it had left earlier because the timetables changed with the end of the school holidays. Then, we were told that that no, actually it had just left Ágia Galíni and would arrive in a few minutes (it didn't). Then, we were told that there was a taxi, but the driver didn't start work until 16:00. Norma found him in a cafe and talked to him, and he agreed to take us to Mixárrouma after his breakfast. It was a short drive, and then we walked about an hour to reach the little village of Fratí. Here we stopped in the prety little taverna on the village square for beer & wine--with free bread & cheese! And then back to Mixárrouma. (This walk worked out as described and even took the specified time - the only one that did.) And the bus back to Spili worked just fine. We lunched at "Marías & Kóstas Taverna", wonderfully shaded by a riot of vines. It was a very popular place and very pleasant and good food, but the raki was rough firewater. Spili just does not have good raki! There is no connection between "Marías & Kóstas Taverna" and "Kóstas Inn".
We ate dinner (not very special) at Taverna Costas Inn, under the Inn. We chatted with a German couple who were staying in a house in a mountain village south-east of Spíli for 3 weeks. They had driven down from Perlach! Also chatted with a French couple staying at the inn.
Friday, 24th September, "our" taxi was waiting at 9 am to take us to the start of our next walk at Aómatos. Back to totally unreliable guide books! We started walking at 09:30, after buying apples from a van on the road. It was very cloudy and much cooler today.
We lost 1/2 hr or more taking the wrong path before we were even out of Asomatos - the path at the bend of the road should have read 2nd path after the bend. Further down we were lost again, when a troop of TUI (Neckerman) tourists from the north coast of Germany, on a 5-day guided tour, went by. We followed them on very narrow and overgrown paths to an asphalt road (we didn't see anything matching the "closed-down olive mill" described in our book). Here we dashed ahead, but went hopelessly wrong at the "derelict monastery" and lost another 33/4 hr or more. We met a German couple who had also gone astray, and went back with them. Soon the TUI troop appeared again and we basically followed them (though slower) through some very rough country to the gorge walls and then on to the beach at Préveli. We got there at 14:30, 5 hrs after starting, compared to the red book time of 2 hr 20 min! By now, we had little chance of completing the walk and just hoped to be able to get a taxi out.
We lunched at the beach taverna - the very long wait for food though it apparently was not the waiter's fault. He was a shock-haired friendly ex-Dutchman living in Bruchsaal near Karlsruhe in the winter, and getting two weeks paid holiday per year. Keith had fried squid & chips, Norma stuffed tomato and peppers with chips. No taxis would come to the beach!!, our friendly waitor said. He asked several people with cars whether they would give us a lift--but most of them were part of a large group driving 2-man jeeps and had no room. He then got his boss to ask a young Greek couple, who agreed. (Seemingly they wouldn't listen to a mere waiter...) They took us to Koxare, telling us on the way that they lived in Athens and only had 2 weeks holiday per year--they were spending just 3 days (!) on Crete. We walked from Koxare to Mixárrouma (3 Km or so), it seemed to take a very long time and there were showers on the way. Arriving there about 17:30, we took the 18:00 bus to Spíli, getting there at 18:03. The streets were flooded, it must have been raining very hard. On the last few yards to Costas inn the heavens opened and we had to dash at full speed.
After a short siesta, we went to "Stratidakis" for dinner at 20:30. They gave us sweet pastries on the house to start with, then we had tomato salad and lamb chops with deep-fried zucchini, and red wine. With the bill we were given pastries of zucchini flowers in batter--nice.
Norma negotiated again for our taxi for 10am "avri".
Now for a day of travelling - from Spíli to Paleoóra on the south coast, via Hania in the far northwest of Crete.
"Our" taxi arrived promptly at 10:00am, taking us to Réthymno in 30 minutes. Then by bus to reach the beatiful city of Chania at noon. We had four hours to enjoy the city before our bus to Paleohora.
We wandered around the old city, looked at the Orthodox Cathedral. We had lunch at the Taverna Apovrado, or rather, a sort of outpost of it - tables out on the square with the Orthodox cathedral (Plat. Athnagora). We shared a lamb kleftiko and aubergines with feta. After lunch, we wandered down to the harbour and bought presents on the harbour and in the old city.
The 16:00 bus left Chania for Paleohóra on time. After a long section along the shore, the bus climbed and climbed more or less steadily on a very curvy road, levelling out at 17:00. There followed many more curves with minor ups and downs before we finally started to descend at about 17:20 reaching the stop in Paleohóra at 17:45.
Norma used her mobile to call our reserved hotel, and the lady of the house (Maria) came on a bicycle to show us the way to our place on Stone Beach! After settling in we walked to the harbour to ask about the boat to Elafonísi (one of the must-sees in Crete). The news was not good: a storm was forecast, probably no ships would be leaving for the next couple of days.
Paleohora is on a small peninsula with a stone beach facing the Prygian sea and a (more) sheltered sandy beach on the other side. We walked across to the Sand beach, where Norma had a swim in heavy surf.
Then to the Third Eye for a vegetarian dinner. Unfortunately, we ordered a main course instead of a starter by mistake, and so had three main courses! They showed us the available food inside--we took Thai curry, Indian "vegetables in batter" with other bits and pieces, vegetable lasagne, white wine, rakí. Afterwards strolled along the promenade of the sandy beach, then across and along the promenade of the Stone Beach before retiring to bed.
Sunday, 26 September was a wild day on the south coast. They say that "bad" weather starts in October, but it can come earlier!
There were no boats running in the heavy seas - very high warm winds. After a leisurely breakfast at a near-by snack bar, we started for the Ánidri gorge. After a 2 km walk eastward along the coast, we entered the gorge and started climbing up. This was a very pleasant steep gorge, with views back to the raging sea. Our guide book did not mention the short section of gorge that we could not have climbed without help over the polished slippery rock with no hand- or footholds. Fortunately a guided party of mainly English tourists was just coming down and helped (hauled) us (particularly Norma) up. Further up, we met a friendly Englishman (who had done the Samaría gorge twice in two successive years). He strongly recommended an expedition to the Gramvousa peninsula.
We reached the village of Ánidri just after 14:00--about 3 hours--and had a snack in the garden of the café Sto Skoló (it is in the building which used to be the village school). Norma had Ratatouille, Keith had tomato keftedes.
Continued at 15:40, first visiting the church of Ágios Geórgios, then walked down the road through the next gorge to the west which comes out at Paleohóra. A pleasant, constant downhill walk on a paved road, with many goats feeding in the rocks and scrubs on both sides. Further down they were streaming slowly down the edges of the road until two madcap mountain bikers scared them, and the whole flock went galloping down the centre of the road. The reason for their migration became clear when they rendezvoused with an open van coming up the road--the driver strewed lots of corn, grains and juicy greens for them to eat. The bigger ones immediately started butting the smaller ones out of the way.
Carrying on, we could hear the surf long before being able to see the sea. The waves were much bigger and longer than in the morning. No way could any boats be operating! We reached Paleohóra at 17:30, just less than 2 hrs from Ánidri. After a short rest (and doing some washing) we left at 19:10 to get to the Third Eye restaurant at 19:30 for food and live rembetiko.
The rembetiko had only three players, two men on guitar and bouzouki (not all that good), and a girl on drums, castanettes, bells, xylophone and more. All three sang at various times, but only the girl was good. They started off by playing Zorba's Dance, which didn't encourage the feeling that we would hear real rembetiko, but later iot got better and more authentic. Not sure whether the girl's throaty voice was due to cigarettes or raki.
On the walk back to the hotel, it was still windy with heavy surf.
Monday, 27th September we took pictures of the (still) stormy sea as we walked along Stone Beach into the town. We headed for a Cretan brunch at The Third Eye, and then walked along Sand Beach to get to the Venetian castle in its commanding position at the head of the peninsula.
We scrambled up to the castle and took lots of photos - surprise, there is a big harbour at the end of the peninsula.
We came down by a road across the top then down steps past a new-looking church with a pretty bell tower, lit up at night. No signs giving its name, and it isn't in the Lonely Planet. The steps lead onto the main street, El. Venizelou.
Then into the Taverna Calypso at 14:15 for wine and a bite to eat: Greek and tomato salads. We had a long chat with a German-Swiss couple and their two well-behaved children. They had come on the ferry from Piraeus, 9 hrs overnight, and hadn't booked anywhere. Just by asking at the taverna they got cheaper and better rooms than ours. After they had left we started chatting with the cook and the waitress -- both from Darlington near Durham! He Abyssinian-looking, she typical North-East English. They were travelling round the world for a year, partly working when work available, partly holidaying.
Back at our hotel at 16:30 for a siesta followed by a swim/paddle, then to the Caravella on Stone Beach for dinner. Unfortunately Keith wasn't feeling too well: light fever, cough, rough knees, neck- and shoulder-aches.
The Caravella is one of the annoying restaurants which tries to drag you in; and when we were choosing a fish, they were constantly battering us to buy two large ones instead of the one small one we wanted. They didn't provide water or mezedes with the rakí, either. We just managed to finish the fish, but not the Briam (which had been left under a heater until they were just mush) or the wine. We did however, get a jug of rakí on the house after paying.
We were seriously concerned that there would be again no boats running the next day, which would prevent us from continuing our journey to Sougia as planned.
5. Sougia (South coast)
Next day, the seas had calmed down, boats were running and Keith was feeling somewhat better.
Norma went to buy tickets for the 9:45 boat to Sougia. Then the last minute panic: Maria of Apartments Manolis and Maria was nowhere to be found, and she still had Norma's passport! Fortunately, Maria showed up in the nick of time and we managed to get the boat. In the panic, we left our itinary behind.
We enjoyed seeing the Anidri gorge, that we had climbed two days earlier, from the sea. In general, the views of cliffs and sea were stunning: imagine being invaders trying to land in this terrain!
The pleasant trip was just over an hour. In Sougia, we had a long walk with our luggage to get grom the harbour to the town. Without our itinary, we were somewhat unsure of the name of the hotel we had booked, but thought it was Galini something. The Taverna Galini led us to the Pension Galini, which we had booked - a further long walk uphill with our bags.
A young Bosnian girl was in charge of the rooms. Keith rested while Norma explored the village, swam at the beach and bought food. Maria was in charge of the town: she ran a general store, gave haircuts, arranged taxis and boats!
The Lissós Gorge provided a relatively easy day of walking, and was directly acessible from Sougia. Norma arranged with Maria that a taxi-boat would pick us up, and bring us back from the beach at Lissos at 12:30.
We walked down to the harbour, up a gorge, across a flat plateau, and then steeply down to Lissós. It was very hot. We looked at an ancient church, and reached the beach at Lissós at 11:45 and Norma had a swim. And we hoped that our boat would arrive!
We offered a German couple a lift back in our boat; they accepted, which cut our costs from €20 to €10. Our taxi was right on time, and took us back to Sougia --just round the headland.
We had a spot of lunch outside our (ground-floor) room, rather spoiled by a nasty smell from the drains. The owner of the pension, a rather odd-looking Greek who seems to be constantly moving round the triangle Chania-Iráklio-Soúgia) was discussing mixed-up reservations with a French-Canadian leader of an active group (including 65-yr olds) touring Crete.
We decided to stay an extra day in Sougia, so that we could walk down the Agía Iríni gorge: more ambitious, and probably the most interesting that we walked. The gorge is 7.5 km long, with a descent of 500 metres. We took a taxi at 09:15 to the village of Agía Iríni. It cost €25 and was probably worth it--a very long, winding road. Our driver was the most gregarious chap, leaning back to talk to us constantly as he careened around the bends with one hand on the wheel. This was the deepest gorge that we walked and watched goats scrambling around high, high up on the gorge walls. We started to walk at 09:40, reached the first rest area at 10:40, exited from the gorge at 13:50. Here we paused for an apple and water, then walked the remaining 1.6 Km to the main road, reaching it at 14:30. A short distance down the main road, a car with a middle-aged German couple stopped and asked where we were going, and whether we would like a lift (at first we thought they were stopping to ask for directions!) They dropped us off at the Pension Galini, at 14:50. We were very glad of that lift--it was blisteringly hot and seemed (from the comfort of the car) to be a very long way. Keith went for a swim and to do some shopping, then read the "Daily Telegraph" while Norma slept happily until 20:30. Then to the Taverna Rembetiko for dinner in their garden: we shared a meal of cheese/zucchini "pies", followed by grilled octopus, with white wine. Only €12,90!
6. Journey from Sougia, through Hora Stafion and Rethymno to Iraklio
Friday, 1 October is a very big travelling day. We are to enjoy the views from the ferry from Sougia to Hora Stakion, then a taxi ride north through the mountains to Vríses. Here we will catch the regular bus along the north coast to Réthymno - and another two hours on the bus to Iráklio. And finally on to our hotel for the night near the airport. Everything had to go more or less right, and it did! We had a really early start, as Norma thought that the ferry left at 9:30 instead of 10:30. This was well because very many people wanted to get on the ship, including the Canadian party led by the bare-footed French Canadian - all with matching luggage! It was a hot and hazy day, and we appreciated the breeze on the ship.
Photos hardly do justice to the beauty of the sea and the rugged beauty of the landscape.
It was about an hour to the first stop at Agía Roumli, where a surprising number of people left including the party from Montreal. The famous Samaria gorge, longest in Crete (13 km), ends here and daily spews 1000 people into the village in the mid-season.
The village is very small, with little accommodation for stranded visitors.
Then on to Loutró - a pretty harbour with lots of hotels and apartments.
The village was built entirely for tourists, with matching white and blue accommodations all around the bay.
Here we were all fascinated by the tasks of the boat crew. After we had let the quay, the ship dropped his nose on the beach to pick up another car! A few minutes later we stopped at a concrete pad, where we picked up a rubbish bin and left a garbage truck - to be collected by the next ship? Who knows?
Look at the pictures on the above. Can you see anywhere there could be a road up into the mountains? The road from Hora Stafion rises straight up the face of the mountain, in ever more scary hairpin bends (see leftmost picture). The only plus is that you can see the descending cars many hairpins above, and long before you meet.
As usual, we were not very confident in our taxi driver. He drove 700 metres of vertical height in 10 minutes, and what a view there was at the top! Much of the 45 minute drive to Vríses was up the right hand side of the Imbros gorge. The cost was $35, not bad for crossing the whole island!
Transfer to the bus for Réthymno was uneventful, and we arrived in Réthymno at 2:45. There was time to enjoy another visit to the Sunset Cafe. We so enjoyed ourselves shopping in the narrow, twisted streets of the old town that we missed the 5:45 bus to Iraklio, and had to wait an hour for the next one.
7. Return to Iraklío and Knossos
It was a very slow journey into Iraklio as the bus hit horrendous traffic jams on the way into town. The a taxi took us to the Knossós Apartments in the suburb of Karteros, getting there at 8:30. We were welcomed warmly by the owner and his wife and one of the daughters, María, who had studied hotel running and was now working for a nearby hotel. The other daughter, Lisitza, also studied innkeeping but has not yet found a job. We went to the "super"-market to buy food for breakfast and lunch, then to the recommended Taverna "Milos" for dinner. We were the only people there; some dishes were not available (end of season?). We shared fried red peppers and lamb on the bone, with a side dish of chorta. The meat was tasty but only luke-warm; same applied to the rice with cheese (!) which accompanied it, and to the chorta. Well, the books do say that Cretans prefer their meals cooler than the more northerly europeans. To bed at 11:30.
Again, we had trouble finding the bus back to Karteros. We walked down to the beach for a swim. The beach was in a disgusting condition--littered with plastic bottles and bags, cigarette packets and buts, sheets of paper etc. After showering we adjoined to the second of the two local tavernas, the Konaki, for dinner.
Rather more people there than at the Milos, the food was cheaper but just as good. We shared fried squid with green salad for a starter, followed by lamb chops and lamb stew, and what looked and tasted like deep-frozen mixed vegetables (peas, diced carrots, green beans etc). It was nice out on the terrace.
Sunday, 3rd October, we had to be at the airport at 5:30 am. Woken by our alarm at 4:45: outside waiting for our taxi, we were surprised to find the owner - he got up to make sure that the taxi arrived for us on time. Cretan hospitality!! It was rather cool outside, but not in the airport--23 °C/27 °C there.
The rest of the journey was long and blissfully uneventful: Airport 5:50, flight 6:50, touched down in Athens and then Thessaloniki, Munich 11:45 and home by S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus at 1:40 pm.