“Let’s go see Crete,” Marilynn says, “It has cool temperatures in the mid-sixties and seventies, and we’ve never been to Greece.” Sounds great. I am in. Anything to get out of this sweltering heat in Tbilisi, Georgia. Off we go to Crete. A most beautiful, historical, and magical Greek island. To our surprise, temperatures linger in the mid-nineties with thick, visible humidity. Turns out, Marilynn was looking at temperatures in Crete, Indiana. Oops!
The Isle of Crete proves more interesting than Crete, Indiana (birthplace of notorious Preacher Jim Jones). We rented a car near the airport and drove to the “Amazing Sea View Apartments” without problem. How did we ever survive without verbal, cellphone navigation?
The “amazing” adjective used for these apartments exceeds its description. Feels like we could gaze at the Aegean Sea and listen to waves from our back balcony for the rest of our lives, until the breeze stops.
The front balcony gives views of a small, residential section of the city on the outskirts of bustling downtown Chania. It is also a perfect place to hang laundry, as we now have a washer and functional kitchen!
After devouring delectable grilled, fileted sardines from one of the hundreds of restaurants lining the Venetian harbor in the tourist section of Chania, we strolled around charming old architecture and narrow alleys where shops, bakeries and restaurants abound.
Impressive to explore, but we appreciate the location of our amazing sea view apartment about two kilometers from the downtown tourist tract. Situated in a quiet neighborhood on a dead-end street we find the perfect walk/jog route with exotic views, as well as our own semi-private swimming hole in a small bay.
First, though, we must shop at local markets where fresh produce, olives, virgin olive oils, cheeses, and “Horta,” a humble weed, await. I cannot wait to cook Sea Bass from the fish market, accompanied by Cretan salad with fresh Mizithra cheese.
Horta, super nutritious wild weeds, makes spinach taste like desert. Yes, it tastes like weeds. But we have grown a liking for it, an addictive craving.
Time to drive in the mountains. The tavern of Dounias sits in the White Mountains. This mountain family works on their farm and then bring the harvest of the day to your table. Wood provides fire for clay pots that boil and simmer scrumptious dishes, the traditional way.
The owner greets us with glasses of raki, a traditional Cretan liquor and symbol of friendship. Complimented that we show up without a guided tour or a reservation, he sits at our table and asks in broken English, “Do you want a menu?” I shrug my shoulders. “It’s all Greek to me,” I respond. We laugh. I thought that he was going to kiss me. “I’ll bring you a sample taste of dishes of the day and explain them.”
Snails picked from the mountainside and boiled in olive oil with wild herbs, tender mountain goat, especially tender from eating only mountain things, chunks of lamb, eggplant, and the best bread I can remember ever eating fill our table.
To burn off our indulges, in the morning we hike through dramatic Imbros Gorge. The trail ends near the sea, where taxis drive you back to your car for 25 Euro. The cost of the ride feels a bit excessive, but how can you say no? The alternative of hiking three hours back uphill makes the deal palatable.
On this mountainous island, our tiny Fiat rental car gets a true test of endurance. On a long, treacherous road covered in sharp rocks and occasional herds of mountain goats, we hope the tires hold. We are heading to one of “the most beautiful beaches in the world,” albeit slowly. We need to see it.
The hike down to Balos Beach would be pleasant if not for the high winds. We make it to the beach way before ten o’clock in the morning when hordes of tourists are due to disembark the ferry. Again, another advantage to being morning people in a late-night culture.
We looked forward to beating the crowds and enjoying this lovely beach in relative privacy, but relentless winds sandblast our entire bodies. So much for beach day but must say that it would be difficult to find a more beautiful beach.
You cannot come to Greece without visiting at least one ancient site. Knossos is the second most important ruins in Greece. Europe’s oldest city, dating to the Bronze Age. An early start and stop here allows us the opportunity for photos without people, and an exit at ten o’clock when the tourists arrive in busloads.
Our road trip continues to the beach town of Sitia, on the eastern shore of Crete, for a two-night stay. “S-curve roads make a four-hour drive feel like eight.
Sit on a balcony above the promenade. Sip coffee or a glass of wine and stare at the sea. Sounds familiar, but here on the east coast we can watch the sun rise.
Rows of restaurants tempt us. The octopus below dries in the hot sea breeze for eight hours and then marinates in red wine for twelve hours before grilling. What did it ever do to deserve such treatment? We decided to munch pizza on the balcony.
Some people just need to see it. This is who we are. “It” can be damn near anything. In this example, “It” is a palm lined beach, a rarity on Crete. We arrived early in the morning (shocking surprise) at Via Beach, which truly looks perfect.
As we swim and then relax on luxurious loungers, crowds descend right on time around ten o’clock. About that time a man approaches us for payment to lounge in this luxury. What? Forty euros each? We decided that we had enough lounging for one day.
On the way back to our amazing sea view apartment in Chania, a stop at an old Leper Colony pulls us on a side trip. This time early arrival does not work so well. The earliest boat ride to Spinalonga Island does not leave until, you guessed it (if you are still reading this), ten o’clock!
Exposure to the hot sun takes its exhausting toll as we explore this historic Fortress turned Leper Colony turned tourist attraction, along with the crowds.
Over a beer we figured that the island looks like a suitable place to make a period piece movie with Metallica background music.
The amazing view from our apartment makes arriving home that much more pleasant. Time to fillet the meat from two kilos of fresh sardines. A labor of love to roast them in virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
Our home stay does not last for long. Yes, Marilynn has a list. Next up, Elfonissi Beach, the Pink Sand Beach, called “the most beautiful beach in all of Europe.”
Well, neither one of us can figure out how that description originated. A travel writer who never left the couch? There are more of them than you realize. Here, pink sand forms where the waves meet the shore. And we would have lounged under an umbrella if not for gale-force winds.
I am happy to get credit for another “beach day” without having to hang out on a beach, which has never been my preference.
What the beach lacks in drama, the drive there and back provides. Single lane roads with blind curves and a single lane tunnel requires total focus on the road. I glance at spectacular canyons every few milliseconds. Tour buses and long lines of vehicles follow them in as we drive out.
Lovely to arrive back home to our balcony. I opt out of Marilynn’s list after hearing what is up next. Get this – catch a bus at 5:45 am for a two-hour drive to a trailhead, then hike ten miles (16 km) through the gorgeous Samaria gorge, which descends 4,000ft (1219mt) to the ocean, in the heat of 95F to 104F (35C to 40C) with plenty of sun exposure. Afterwards you need to wait hours in the heat until 5:30pm for the only ferry to take you to the bus for a two-hour ride back home.
I drop her off at 5:30am and enjoy a relaxing day of exercising, floating around in our bay, writing a blog post draft, and sipping cold ones on the balcony. When I pick her up at 9:30pm, she is beet red exhausted but well-deservedly empowered! What an amazing woman. Check out part of her hike.
How could we have not yet eaten lamb on the Isle of Crete? “The Blue Restaurant” sits over the ocean. We have eaten there twice and are going back again. The Lamb Chops melt in your mouth.
I would describe the people of Crete as friendly but private. They do not stare at you, and often walk past without acknowledgement. Does not bother Marilynn but drives me nuts. I am more the friendly, silly cocker spaniel type of American who wants to smile and say hello to everyone.
Most locals in our neighborhood do not speak English. We develop a distant relationship with the fellow morning walkers and runners who share our magical path. When they do greet you, they say “Kalimera” which means good morning. I have been mistakenly responding with “Calamari.” Maybe they maintain a high degree of indifference because I call them squid every morning.
One last item on Marilynn’s list. We drive on more twisty mountain roads to catch a ferry which brings us to Lourtro Beach, described as “one of the prettiest villages on Crete.” I refer often to “twisty mountain roads” and this screen shot of the invaluable cellphone navigation provides an example.
The whitewashed buildings with blue doors do conjure up those Greek images, but on a smaller scale. The clear water and laid-back atmosphere make this an appealing destination.
But it was hot and maybe we got a little cranky as we sat in the stifling heat for three hours, waiting for the late ferry back to the main road. It happens. Still, we just had to see it.
After a fabulous month in Crete (Greece, not Indiana) life demands our return home to take care of business. What a magical experience on the Isle of Crete.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!