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Our celebration of life trip. Crete

I guess I should explain the title of this trip report. In late 2018 and early 2019 my wife (Lollypeter) and I were both diagnosed with life threatening illnesses. After surgery we are both fully recovered and were able to return to Greece in September where we celebrated our new healthy lives.

It’s a long trip from Vancouver Island to Athens. We had a rather circuitous route. Nanaimo to Toronto, a 4 hour delay then our flight to Warsaw. Finally, a late night Aegean flight to Athens. We arrived at Peris hotel exactly29 hours after we left home.

Next morning we took the early flight to Chania, Crete. Chania captured our hearts many years ago and we return time and time again. The initial excitement of wandering the old city back alleys and the Venetian harbour creates the illusion that we have stepped back in time. That initial experience has never changed for us and Chania remains our favourite city in Greece.

We stayed at Natalie’s Rooms/ Pension Nora. It is under new management but the charming two story 400 year old Cretan house still oozes charm.
We spent our time in Chania getting over jet lag, wandering the old town area and taking long walks.

We found a street market which had a couple hundred stalls, selling fruit and vegetables, olives, olive oil, cheese, homemade wine and of course raki in liter and a half plastic bottles.
Raki is produced from all the grapes and pulp left over from wine making. This is distilled and produces a rough alcohol drink. It has taken us 20 years to learn to appreciate Raki and we can drink a shot without a trace of a shudder or a grimace. One of the most pleasant recipes for raki is to add honey, cinnamon, cloves. (That’s called carnation when translated from Greek. It took us a half hour in different spice shops before a clerk figured out what we were looking for.) It takes a few days steeping the ingredients in the raki but the end result was wonderful honey brown liquor which we enjoyed throughout the trip.

Our 4th and last day in Chania proved to be a highlight. We walked to the KTEL bus station to try and find a way to get to Falasarna or Agia Triadia, however, my wife stopped at a small booth at the entrance to the bus station and asked the lady about what she was selling. This is a new tour company called Smart Tours. They offer several different half day tours including a wine and oil tour, Akrotiri including Agia Triada Monestary, and Theriso Gorge. This day they were running the Wine and Oil tour. It promises to be” off the beaten path to places the locals love.” This turned out to be the best tour we have ever taken. The bus only holds 12 so the group was small. We visited an old bridge and witnessed the results of the flooding in the spring. The next stop was the German War Cemetery. It was sobering, particularly when we read the ages of most of the soldiers who were just teenagers.

Next stop was a the Odigitria Monestary in Kissamos, then into the mountains to visit the olive grove at Vouves where one of the oldest olive trees in the world still produces olives. This is the tree where a twig is taken to be awarded to the winner of the Olympic marathon.

Our next stop was at the village of Anoskeli where we visited a modern olive oil operation and winery. Included was an olive oil tasting with small snacks plus a wine tasting of 5 different wines. This was the most generous pour we have ever seen in a wine tasting. Oh yes, the lady Nicole we met at the bus station not only promotes the tours but was also the tour guide and driver. She was quite responsible and partook in the oil tasting but not the wine.
This is a long report and I have run out of space. I will continue on another post.

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We continue the olive oil and wine tasting on the Smart Tours. The lady we met at the bus station is Nicole, not only promotes the tours but was also the tour guide and driver. She was quite responsible and partook in the oil tasting but not the wine.

Our table mates were an Englishman and his Spanish wife along with the Nicole. During the discussion the Englishman mentioned he was a sea captain. My wife said “My father was a Shell Oil tanker Captain,” then Nichole chimed in “My father owned a shipping company.” I guess that made her the winner of the bragging contest.

We thought the tour was over, however our final stop was at a small village at a taverna where a table was already set for us. We were served a variety of small pies, bread and olive oil and lots of Raki. By this time we were a pretty loose happy group. A mother and daughter from Sweden sang us a drinking song and shot a glass of raki to finish. They did such a good job that we all asked them to do it again so we could video it and of course chug more raki. Not to outdone the Spanish lady led us in one of their traditional drinking songs. While the cost of this stop was not included in the tour we each paid only 6 euro for the refreshments, which is a pittance considering how much we ate and drank.

The fun came to an end when Nicole abruptly herded us onto the bus. We had agreed to take the tour because Nicole promised us she would have us back in Chania by 7 PM. We had to be back in time as we had a dinner date with our original Greek travel agent who we have known since 1996. It was obvious that we were not going to make it in time so Nicole and asked us where we were meeting our friends and then asked the group if they minded a detour to the old town waterfront to Talos square. There were cars parked on both sides of the narrow road and I swear the bus had no more than 2 inches of clearance on both sides. Those Greeks can really navigate in narrow spaces. Talk about great service.

We actually arrived before our friends so I spoke to the waitress and told her we were having Greek friends join us and we know they will want to pay the bill. I said “I want to pay the bill so how do we manage this?” Obviously this isn’t the first time paying the bill has come up because she said, “When you’re just about finished ask me to show you where the washroom is. I’ll take you to the back and you can pay”. It worked like a charm. When our guests reached for the bill I said “The bill has been taken care of.” The immediate response was “You didn’t go to the bathroom did you!” This was the perfect end to a wonderful day.

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Sougia
We took the KTEL bus to Sougia. The trip through the White Mountains is always a thrill with steep climbs, switchbacks and goats on the road makes an entertaining trip. This year the bus route goes through Olamos to and from Sougia. I suspect that the old route where the Palechora bus met the Sougia bus didn’t prove to be efficient.

We stayed at Oceanis again this time in a secondary building. We had a lovely sea view yet lots of privacy. While it’s just an ordinary hotel room, it comes with a refrigerator, kettle, two coffee cups and a couple of plates and cutlery. That was sufficient for us to make a cup of coffee and a Greek salad and hard boiled eggs.

The river beside Sougia flooded in the Spring rains and cut a new channel and significantly widened the river bed. It was dry in September and made a wonderful trail for a little day hike into the interior olive groves.

Lolly has never been interested in swimming but this year she found her sea legs so I was able to take her to the far ends if the beach and show her the sea caves. That was a treat for both of us.
One day, a couple stuck up a conversation with Lolly as she sat in the hotel outdoor courtyard. An hour later the three of them were still talking and telling stories of our travel experiences. They introduced themselves as Heinz and Heidi from Hamburg. Cute. We met for dinner at Rebitiko Taverna which was the favourite Sougia taverna for both of us. On this trip we had several random experiences with meeting strangers and developing instant friendships.

On our last day we took the boat excursion to Ancient Lissos. On a previous trip we tried to do the over the mountain hike to Lissos but abandoned the effort after the first climb up the path. The next year i wanted to take the water tai to the site but there was some sort of emergency and the water taxi was off doing some rescue work. This year we were determined to get to Lissos so we took the water taxi. On arrival we took what seemed to be a well worn path. Unfortunately I failed to do sufficient research to realize that we were headed in the wrong direction. Instead of finding the temple ruins we ended up in the Roman Era mountainside Grave mausoleums. This area was fascinating but required a scramble to get up to the site. Later we took a different return path through a meadow and we discovered a massive olive tree. It certainly was as large as the famous one at Vouves.

At this point we had pretty much used up all our energy and of course that’s when we discovered the path to the church and up to the Temple. There was no way we could make that climb so we returned to the beach at the boat dock where we had a drink, snack and a swim. I guess another trip to Lissos is in order next time we are in Sougia.

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Plakias
We took the KTEL bus from Sougia to Chania. We had 5 minutes to make the connection to the bus to Rethymnon and another 5 minutes to connect to the bus to Plakias. We arrived in Plakias before noon. If we were a minute slower on any f those connections and it might have been early evening before we got to Plakias. We had guardian angels watching over us on that trip.

We stayed at Gio Ma again. It was the first hotel in Plakias we found in 2007 on our first trip. It has been remodeled and proved to be one of the nicest budget hotels on the trip.
Plakias is pretty much all about the beach and we spent most of our time hanging out at a beach taverna and taking turns swimming and sunning.

One day we took the Previli shuttle bus and got off at the Ammoudi Beach turn off. We walked to the beach and encountered a whole flock of sheep and goats scrambling down the hillside. We watched their antics for a good quarter hour. We continued along the coastline until we discovered three rock enclosed secluded coves leading to the larger Mini Amoudi beach cove. I must say the bathing suits were pretty minimal in this area.

From Plakias we made our way to Heraklion for the ferry to Santorini and on to Naxos. We stayed at Kronos Hotel right on the waterfront. That evening we spent a couple of hours wandering the alleys of central Heraklion.

Next morning we took Championjet to Santorini. We had an hour connection. My, what a mass of confusion with thousands of people getting on and off several ferries all arriving within a few minutes of each other. The switchback road up to the top of the cliffs was jammed with traffic. People often ask how much time they should budget to get to the ferry port. I would say they should expect 30 to 45 minutes just to get down that road.
Here are the images of our two weeks in Crete

Chania,Sougia and Plakias 2019 https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157711266062752

Lollypeter’s Impressions
How many times have Stan and I been to Greece since 1996? Maybe 15 times? I have lost count. We love the sun, the light, the landscape the historical sites, the history. The best is the people. This trip was a special time of meeting up with old friends and making new ones.
On the flight to Chania I sat beside Maria, who I learned now lives in Belgium, grew up in Naxos and her uncle has a farm where he hosts tours and we really must take one and tell him Maria sent us. We did. More about that later when we report on our Naxos visit.
Our former travel agent, Dimitris, introduced us to Naxos 23 years ago. He and Stan hit it off immediately and we have always kept in touch, even finding him at his new job in Chania when he moved there years ago. We now know his delightful wife and his two children are now into adulthood. The drinks and conversation that we shared that sunset in Chania were special.
Nicole is the Smart Tours guide. What a lady! Talk about good cheer, energy and abounding knowledge about Crete and the lifestyle there. Small tours are the best. During our six hours with this group (time
flew by) we got to know many of the group – and their drinking songs! The next evening we had dinner with the English/Spanish couple. The gentleman writes safety manuals for ships and oil rigs, writes science fiction and reviews movies. The lady is an English teacher. We were never at a loss for what to discuss.
In Sougia we met Heinz and Heidi from Hamburg. Due to privacy issues I will not say the position he had just retired from but he had over a thousand people reporting to him. I was quite impressed. They shared many fascinating stories over dinner.

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1082 posts

Your joy in being in Greece again shines through your writing.

I hope the rest of your trip is as special as Crete has been.

Beth

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631 posts

I am so glad things turned out well for you both, health wise. Thanks for sharing your report - and after looking at the pictures, I felt like I had been there, too. :)

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641 posts

Sorry to hear of your health problems but so glad you are both doing well and could return to Greece. You helped me plan trips to Greece (over on Fodors) several times and your advice has always been great. Hope you have many more trips to Greece (and elsewhere).

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2416 posts

Oh my dears, what a wonderful travelogue, and for me, wistful memories. I so lament that this year's (happily resolved) health challenges prevented us from meeting for our almost-annual rendezvous, but at least we have celebrated some Milestone occasions in the past 15 years.... I also owe such a debt to your for your stunning photographs, because your albums are so good that I don't have to put my feeble snapshots of each destination up on the internet, I can simply post your links.... and because of that, hundreds (or maybe thousands) of travel -planners see the beauties of Greece thru your eyes (jointly that is; stanbr clicks the shutter, the artful organization is lolly's gift).

Please continue step-by-step thru this Celebration of Life journey; I already have a special folder on my desktop for each chapter.

Travelerjan

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1933 posts

It was an absolute joy reading your celebration of life journey. I have always appreciated reading your past adventures and viewing your photos. It was you and Janet who inspired us to visit Greece in 2017. Wishing you and Lolly continued good health and happy travels.

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1526 posts

Wonderful report! I am in Greece now, and concur about the beauty and people. Hopefully, if we are lucky, we can return and go to Crete, it sounds marvelous!

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Thank you all for your kind remarks. We had a wonderful trip. I am now working on Amorgos and Naxos pictures. Once they are ready I'll do part two of the report. There are more stories to tell, cancelled ferries, desperate search for a hotel room, unexpected help from a complete stranger and lots more to come.

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part two. On to Amorgos
We have been hearing good things about Amorgos but just never managed to fit it in. I found good ferry connections from Heraklion to Santorini and on to Amorgos. We took a risk that the sea would be calm because we were booked on one of the notorious smaller Seajets. I was a bit concerned when we discovered every seat had a seat belt and there was a sign saying stay in your seats for the whole voyage. These ferries have earned their reputation for being unsteady in rough seas. Fortunately it was a fairly calm day and no one got seasick.

We were booked at Erismo hotel in Aegiali village. The reviews were good and although the pictures indicated it was on an elevation we thought we would go for the views. The ferry arrived at the port of Katapola but our hotel was in Aegiali so we took a taxi. I should have realized this was going to be an interesting transfer because the taxi driver put on his seat belt. I am not sure I have seen a taxi driver use a seat belt on a Geek island before. We soon were way up high in the mountainous interior of the island. At one point we were driving through a cloud. I was tempted to put on my seat belt but I realized if we go off the road we would be plunging down a sheer cliff so it wouldn’t make any difference. This island is truly baron. There were no trees, just scrub brush, rocks and goats. The views on the other hand were amazing.
We arrived in Aegiali and got our room. It had a great view over the sea and the beach but it was quite high up in the village. We are good walking down hill, uphill is another matter but we did manage the climb with two or three stops.

Aegiali is a lovely village with a nice beach several good taverns many with sea views. We spent our time there exploring the village, taking short hikes in the surrounding countryside and basically just chilling out.

On our last day the hotel owner told us that the ferries were all canceled for the next day. There was a long line up of worried tourists crowded into the travel agent who sold us the ferry tickets. They told us that the bad weather would calm down in about 30 hours so the blue Star ferry would be sailing the day after tomorrow. Maybe. The problem was it would be sailing from Katapola not Aegiali. Since it was scheduled to sail at 6AM we thought we would be smart to change lodgings and stay in Katapola that evening so we would not have to call for a taxi at 4:30 AM. There was a large crowd at the bus stop and with our tender knees we felt we could not risk a standing up bus ride so we found the one taxi in the village to take us to Katapola. It turned out to be the same driver who transferred us when we first arrived.

He asked us if we had a reservation in Katapola and when we told him no, he indicated that the hotels were very full with the people who didn’t leave the day of the cancelled ferry. He told us he had a friend who could help us find a room and he dropped us off at a waterfront taverna and introduced us to the owner, Poppi. She got on the phone and called about 5 hotels but none of them had any rooms. She told us we could leave our bags at the taverna if we wanted to wander the village looking for a hotel. We spent the next two hours visiting dozens of hotels. All were full. We even got on Tripadviser and found one hotel with a room so we booked it then stopped at the hotel where they told us Tripadviser was not current and they had no more rooms. Totally defeated we wandered back to the taverna and had a cold beer while the owner said she would try one more hotel. Bingo we got the last room at Eleni’s. It turned out to be a charming waterfront building right at the edge of the village. Needless to say the room was up about 40 steps but beggars can’t choose.

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Once again I have exceeded the word allowance. Either Rrick needs to give us more space or I need to be less descriptive. The hotel was built into the side of a hill and the owners had a small apartment at the top where they had a fenced area for goats, a giant barbecue, a picnic area and a kitchen/work area. The owner invited us in and gave us a bottle of homemade beer, a small round of cheese from their goats, 4 tomatoes from her plants and some of her own pressed olive oil. We were certainly blessed by kindness in Katapola.
Amorgos reminds of Naxos when we first visited in 1996. It is very laid back, almost as if time has stood still. It turn out that the island passed a law that there could be no more new building built and Eleni’s was the last building completed in 1993.
We would certainly plan to return to Amorgos on another trip and Eleni’s will be our go to accommodation.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157711294714766

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1082 posts

Lovely report ! We almost got stranded on Santorini when we visited in 2018 due to a strike. Ended up taking a local ferry to Naxos that was still running. I have to admit I had not thought of weather stranding is too! You just have to be flexible as I can see you are!

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Stan, We too loved the people of Katapola. I understand your appreciation for Eleni’s but would highly recommend you at least consider Porto Katapola, a pension right on the harbor with amazing rooms with huge balconies overlooking the port for around 50 euros (in May). The owner, Iannis, was so kind and helpful. One day we were having trouble with the ATM down the street and he offered us money for dinner! I understand that in the fall, he offers guests vegetables from his garden. A wonderful person, so hospitable, the kind of host who draws so many of us back to Greece over and over.

I’m enjoying your trip report. We have not yet been to Crete, but it is now on our list.