My flight from Crete to Lyon, France is tonight. As it leaves from Herkalion, I decided to head there in the morning to spend the day in Crete’s capital city. Like most cities in Crete, it’s right on the water as its port was critical to its establishment.
Today was kind of rough for me. I don’t know if my head wasn’t in the right place or what, but I felt like everyone at the bus station was rude to me. On the bus, I tried to meditate, but it took me a good hour to finish a 15-minute session. Sometimes it’s hard to get the mind to rest.
Once we arrived in Herkalion, I stashed my bag at the Herkalion bus terminal, and wandered into the city.
I purchased a few last-minute souvenirs, and then took a quick bus to Knossos, on the other side of the city. Unfortunately my phone ran out of battery, so I have no pictures of this majestic place. Knossos was the first capital city of Crete, and the Palace of Knossos was home to King Minos, now one of Crete’s largest archeological ruin. Many stories from Greek Mythology are connected to this site. Thought the palace was originally built in 1900 BC, and was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries, it has some remarkably modern features. At some points the palace was 5 stories tall. It was designed to use the heat of the sun to warm the interior, and with ventilation to keep cool in summer. Perhaps most notably is the clay pipe infrastructure that brought fresh water from distant areas in Crete to aqueducts that distributed it to the townspeople.
After touring the Palace, I took the bus back to Herkalion’s center and had a Greek salad, my final meal in Greece. I picked up my luggage and headed on my way to the airport for my next destination: a quick stop in Lyon, then on to Geneva, Switzerland!
How am I already 18 days into my trip?! And how do I still have over a month left abroad? Crazy! Today I went to Chania, and the first thing I did was climb up on a hill from which I could see the whole city:
Then I walked the town and saw the sights. First up, the Church of the Trimartyri, which was turned a soap factory at one point in history. The inside is beautiful and ornately decorated.
I walked along the port towards Firkas Fortress, and passed this display in front of the Maritime Museum. The anchor was at least 10′ long!
Hmmm, maybe a map will help me explain the city to you. The area highlighted in red is where the fortress is. The red lines on the map are the Venetian Fortress, and the blue lines are the Byzantine Fortress. The bay is very large, and takes at least 30 minutes to walk around. The lighthouse is at the very tip, where you see the letter ν:
This is the Mosque of Kioutsouk Hassan-Giali Tzamisi (what a mouthful!) Inside there was a display of local handmade textile art. I bought myself a special embroidered piece. I’m trying to start an art collection; I had also purchased a piece of hand-painted tile art in Ravello, Italy.
The last three days in the row, I had meals that challenged me. So today I simply ordered the cheese plate!
I watched the glorious sunset.
And stopped at a bakery for some honey-soaked, almond-topped cake!
I slept in today. I had a simple breakfast at a nearby coffee shop: a cappuccino and a seedy pastry with mozzarella cheese inside. I returned to the apartment, grabbed my laptop, and headed to the garden and the beach behind the apartment building I’m staying in. What a treat to be right on the beach!
I had changed my Airbnb reservation at the last minute (my previous selection lacked internet access), so unfortunately all the apartments on the beach side were taken. That’s ok with me; I try to spend most of my waking hours exploring anyway. But not today! I spent most of the day reading, writing, and updating my resume with the sound of the ocean in the background. Not typical activities for a vacation, but this is more than a vacation for me. I’m at a time of transition, and time to reflect on my life, and find direction is as important to me as seeing the sights. It felt good to get some thoughts out of my head and onto paper.
At some point I ran into Maria in the hall. She is my Airbnb host’s mother, who gave me homemade cookies upon my arrival. She excitedly told me of her family friend Demetrius, who was visiting from Cyprus at the time. She insisted on having me up to her apartment to introduce us single travelers to one another. I was flattered, but not interested. The three of us chatted over coffee and Maria’s homemade walnut cake. She took pictures of us with her iPhone :). She also showed me how to use the laundry machine in my apartment, which was a great treat!
Later in the day, I walked to the center of town.
I had tried fresh fish, fresh shrimp, and chicken souvlaki. The only thing left on my food list was moussaka: a layered dish with sautéed eggplant, ground meat, and béchamel sauce. I was nervous, because the meat is traditionally lamb and I don’t know how I feel about eating lambs. So I simply didn’t ask what kind of meat it was. It turns out there was very little meat anyway, with generous layers of eggplant, potato and béchamel. It was so delicious! I’m so glad I tried it! Definitely my favourite meal in Greece. I also had tzatziki, in the background of the picture.
That’s pretty much it for today. I lingered at a coffee shop after my meal and walked around Marina Port where the lighthouse is. And then I went “home” for an early night in.
Good morning! I woke up, had a quick salad for breakfast, and headed to the bus station. Today I’m heading to Preveli Beach, on the south side of Crete.
I took Crete’s public bus again, the same one that I took from the airport in Herkalion to Rethymnon. They’re super comfortable coach busses, with large windows and air conditioning. I’d highly recommend it! I could have spent 40€ on a guided tour to Preveli, but this bus was only 9€ round-trip.
It’s about an hour ride to Plakais, which has a beautiful beach too. From there I took another bus about 15 minutes to Preveli.
This is the view from where the bus dropped me off.
It’s a short walk to the parking lot, and from there a steep descent to the beach.
Preveli has a freshwater river that empties into the Mediterranean Sea. On one side it looks like a tropical jungle, and on the other side is a beautiful beach, all in the same place! Here’s a quick panorama:
I walked on the path along the river…
Then headed back to the beach. These birds were huge (what kind are they dad?) and hung out on the beach right next to the humans.
This building must have been a church at some point. I peeked in the windows and found ornate religious stuff (I don’t know what I was looking at!), and stashed cleaning supplies.
I went to the beach and soaked up the sun. The water here is very calm, with most of the waves coming from passing boats. I swam far out, but the water never got more than 15-20′ deep. I’ve really enjoyed swimming in deep water on this trip. Most beaches in the USA have lifeguards that don’t allow you deeper than your chest (or if you’re tall like me, the waist). To the left of the huge rock in the picture below, there’s a small sliver of rock in the background peeking up above the water. I swam to that rock, and was pleased to see that it wasn’t sharp and jagged, but rather covered in natural sea sponges, the kind many people use for bathing. They made for quite a comfortable perch, and I sat there feeling like a mermaid.
I dove into the deep water and swam towards a part of the beach that’s inaccessible by foot. It’s hidden behind those huge boulders in the far left of the picture below. I thought it would be fun to spend some time at that deserted section of the beach. That means I’d have to find a way to bring my tote bag there. My options were to either swim it there (not possible, I have electronics with me), or carry it over the boulders. So I climbed over the boulders to get back to the main beach to see if it was feasible. I quickly realized that climbing over 25′ tall jagged rocks while 5000 miles from home wasn’t a good idea. Let’s not forget that the entire beach was difficult to access: only the crazy rocky stairs or a boat can get there. There’s no way an ambulance could access it if necessary. I made it safely to the main beach, and chose not to haul my tote bag to the deserted little section. I must have looked crazy, scaling boulders with bare hands and a bikini. Don’t worry parents, I took my time and was careful! I didn’t even get a bruise!
I took an afternoon boat back to Plakais, and had a nice lunch by the beach. There are lots of stray cats in Crete, and this one sunned himself by the restaurant.
I’ve wanted to have fresh fish by the Mediterranean, but I didn’t know what kind to order. My mom suggested the sea bass. I saw a picture of a whole grilled fish on a platter, and asked the server if the chef could filet it. And she said yes! I was very thankful. The meal was delicious, and the view even better.
I watched the sunset while I waited for the bus back to Rethymnon. It’s become a motto of mine to “never plan on taking the last bus home,” because if you miss it you’re screwed! Today I did plan on taking the last bus of the day, as I wanted to spend as much time in Plakais as possible. I made sure I wouldn’t miss it by strategically placing myself at a coffee shop where I would see the bus pull up.
I saw a few cairns along the shore:
Back in Rethymnon, I went to a hookah lounge, called nargiles in Greece. Then I followed the yellow luggage trail back to my apartment. That dark abyss on the right side is the sea!
Today I rose before the sun. I dressed, grabbed some bread and cheese from the fridge, and started the 3km (2mi) walk towards Marina Port. I had signed up for a day trip and the boat leaves at 7am. I walked along the beach and stopped for a cappuccino along the way. I don’t know much about Greek culture yet, but I’ve been pleased to see that coffee is as ubiquitous in Greece as it is in Italy.
The boat to Santorini was huge, had a little cafe, and seats similar to those in airplanes. I found a seat by the window, and watched the sunrise along the way. It was a 3 hour trip.
Once we arrived at the port in Fira, we were loaded onto coach busses that would take us around Santorini. The views during the boat ride was similar to the mountains in Amalfi, with the gorgeous glittering sea far below the steep countryside.
First we went to Oia, (pronounced Ia) on the northern tip of the island. This picturesque little town is covered in renown white houses and shops. It’s breathtakingly beautiful! Most of the pictures we’ve seen of Greece has probably been of this tiny town, but that doesn’t represent Greece fully. Greece is huge! And has many islands that don’t necessarily look like Oia’s pure white buildings. Even the rest of Santorini doesn’t look like the postcard pictures. Santorini is actually mountainous, with dry red and black rocks upon which picturesque Oia is found. But let’s put that thought aside and take in the beautiful view…
I stopped for lunch, with this as the view from my table:
Two Japanese teenagers sat at a table nearby, looking at themselves through their phones more than they looked at the view. I followed suite and took a couple of selfies, knowing that the scenery was unbeatable. And knowing my mom would like to see my face!
I ordered a shrimp platter, but didn’t expect the shrimp to be served whole. I kindly explained to my waitress that I hadn’t had shrimp like this before, and could she please show me how to eat it? She sat down next to me, and we dissected the shrimp together, first removing the heads, then the shell, legs, and tail. Those of you that know me well know that I was vegetarian for 12 years until the start of this trip, consuming no pork, beef, poultry, fish or seafood. Being adventurous with local food is important to me (my budget for food is larger than what I’m spending on hotels/accommodations!), and I actually liked learning how to dissect my shrimp meal. But unfortunately I didn’t really like the taste. This surprised me, as I’ve always enjoyed shrimp as a child, and even enjoyed in in Amalfi last week. It simply tasted very fishy. I mixed the shrimp with the rice and salad, and finished my meal. But afterwards I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, literally. I was glad that I had tried it though!
In past meals, though I enjoyed the meats I’ve tried, I enjoy vegetables 1000% more. Then again, that grilled chicken I had on my first day here was one of my fave meals! Whatever. I stopped for a bite of baklava and returned to the tour bus.
Many of the roads here had 180° turns, just like Amalfi. There’s much less traffic here!
I don’t have any pictures of Fira, what a shame. It’s the capital city of Santorini. I found it to be tiny, and closer to my idea of a touristic beach town than a capital city. I giggled to myself when I remembered my guide’s strict warning to cross the street carefully, because in his mind they are crowded with traffic and dangerous. Growing up in New York has given me such an odd perspective, and I’m reminded of that constantly. I often call places “rural” and am then corrected that it’s actually a small city. For this reason, I’d like to visit a really rural place, because I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like. I had a coffee in Fira, called my parents, and enjoyed the view. Then I boarded the bus that took us back to the port for the last part of the trip: to a volcanic island, and a dip in the hot springs!
We rode on a traditional sailboat, but the captain definitely used the motor instead of the sails. The boat was as pretty as the view.
The boat below is similar to the one I was on, but smaller:
This is as close to the volcano as my camera got. There is no dock on this part of the island, so the boat tossed down an anchor, and I tossed myself into the sea! Lake Michigan is beautiful, but I am a saltwater fish. I swam towards the shore and the water temperature quickly rose. The water turned from turquoise to a rusty iron red. I basked in the warm water, picked a few choice rocks for my sand collection, and headed back to the boat.
The sailors were acting like true sailors: chain smoking cigarettes, talking gruffly, and this one even showed off his tattoo!
By the time we returned to Crete, it was 9pm, and I was hungry and tired. I had a falafel pita for dinner on the way home.
After two busy days of travel, I let myself sleep in today. I got up around 10:30 and walked along the beach to the center of the old town. The beach here is actually very short, and has many rocks. There’s less than 100′ of sand, sometimes with only 20′ of sand between the rocks and the sea.
I found a lovely bakery and stopped for breakfast. Helene works behind the counter and kindly told me about all the treats they make from scratch daily. I chose a brioche toast with bacon and cheese inside. Delicious!
I strolled the streets, which were full of shops selling cosmetics, soaps, natural oils, natural sea sponges, spices, linens, jewelry, leather goods, and knives. I thought this shop was funny, with knives and rosaries on display:
I stopped in this little cheese shop. Everything they sell is made with sheep’s milk. That’s sheep’s milk butter in those yellow jars! I purchased a small amount of three cheeses and continued walking.
I actually did a lot of shopping today. I bought argan oil for my hair, some donkey milk soap, a ring, and leather sandals for myself (I had only brought one cheap pair, and they were threatening to trip me with every step!)
I came across a lingerie store called “Intimissim”. I was intrigued, as Victoria’s Secret has a line by the same name that’s supposed to be Italian-styled. This small shop has no affiliation with VS, which was great news to me! I didn’t travel this far to shop at an American store. The sales associates were very knowledgeable. They measured me and gave me excellent personalized recommendations. I got myself a little treat and continued on my way.
I had been looking for another bakery to get some bread to accompany my cheese, but didn’t see any. I wandered back to where I had my breakfast and Helene chose a great wheat bread for me. The texture of the bread was phenomenal – so light, so many air pockets! I tasted the cheese, enjoyed all of them, and selected the one with the black wax rind as my favourite.
And then some sheep’s milk gelato for dessert! I had a flavor called kantaifi, with honey, cinnamon, and almond. Three items that Greece specializes in! To the left of the picture is pistachio, another Greek specialty.
I wandered back to my apartment, enjoying the charming streets of the village along the way.
I stopped at the grocery store. The store clerks found it funny that an American was in their grocery store, and taking pictures! Hasn’t she seen eggs before? Yes, but not in a charming little basket! They kindly helped me, telling me about their wine selection, and different produce items.
I appreciated that they keep their herbs in fresh water.
This is my haul for the day: wine (4€); olive oil (1.8€); cheese (4.7€); bread (1.2€); produce (1€). About $15!
I woke up before dawn and headed to the train station to catch a train to Rome, from where I’ll catch a flight to Crete.
Apparently old Italian men do the same thing on the train as American teenagers: candy crush! Several of the people on the train looked like they were heading to work. I was one of the few with luggage.
Once I arrived at Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome, I had a quick espresso and caprese sandwich, then boarded another train to take me to the airport. Rome’s airport is a good example of Europe’s surprisingly modern construction, and the importance they place on energy efficiency. I loved the bathroom in Rome: each sink has a sensor for water, soap, and a hand drier. So convenient! I want one in my home :)
I had a short layover in Athens, and took this picture of their bathroom sinks:
Athens also had these smoking booths, which I though were hilarious. It’s like a little prison cell for smokers! But also a good example of the advanced construction here. From right outside, I couldn’t smell the smoke at all. This means that the booths are built to be relatively airtight, and with a strong ventilation system to constantly change out the smoky air.
I stopped for a picture with this mini nutella jar,
I boarded my flight to Heraklion, Crete. I was surprised that all of the flights I’ve been to so far didn’t have a gate directly to the plane, as they do in the US. In Europe, once you exit the gate at the airport, you board a small shuttle bus that takes you to the plane to board. This is very common in the Caribbean too.
Once in Herkalion, I took a 10 minute public bus from the airport to the main bus terminal. There I boarded a coach-style bus (with wifi!) for a 1.5 hour trip to Rethymnon, where I’m staying. My Airbnb apartment was only a 10 minute walk, but I hailed a taxi and gave my aching shoulders a break. In the last 36 hours I’ve taken a bus, 3 boats, 2 trains, 2 airplanes, 2 busses, and then finally the taxi. It sounds exhausting, and it was, but I was more focused on the beautiful scenery every step of the way. Boat rides along the Amalfi coast, trains through the Italian countryside, and airplanes over the greek isles!
I planned to go straight to sleep, but I was hungry and couldn’t resist the urge to see the town. I’m staying at an apartment right on the beach, and about a 15 minute walk along the beach to the center of Rethymnon. I had a delicious dinner! The best grilled chicken I’ve ever had! Alright, I’ll admit, it’s been over 12 years since I’ve had grilled chicken… so maybe I just missed it :). A delicious salad with fresh feta cheese, drizzled in a balsamic reduction. To the left is a plate of Santorini fava beans, which are cooked and blended with lemon, oil, garlic and onion. To accompany the meal I had some kind of Greek wine, I didn’t understand the name. It was slightly sweet, and I’d swear it tasted like lemon! Deliciously refreshing, and slightly carbonated.
At the end of my meal, I was served this dessert… without ordering it? Whatever, I never say no to food! Again, I have no idea what it is, what’s in it, or what it’s called! The texture was something I’ve never experienced before. The only ingredient I can tell it has is the cinnamon lightly dusted on top. My server had also given me a small glass bowl of
vodka Raki, but I could only manage a sip.
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