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Report on Trip to Crete, Delphi, and Meteora

Overview
We just got back from a 2.5 week trip to Crete, Delphi and Meteora. It was our second trip to Greece. This trip was different than others we have taken to Europe in that we moved around a lot. We generally like to stay 3-4 nights in one place but it became clear early on that Crete was not conducive to that. Then a few weeks before our trip we spent 3 nights living out of a suitcase while celebrating our son’s graduation. I found it really difficult as it seemed I was constantly looking for things. I was determined to do better for our Greece trip. Using advice from this forum both on how to organize stays and packing and some ideas I came up with as well, we were mostly successful.

We combined the bus and a car rental on Crete. That worked well for us. The bus is inexpensive (I recall 7.8 Euros to south coast) and comfortable. Masks were required to board but many people took them off once they were on. As a consequence, we moved to the back where there were fewer people. This did require me to take two Dramamine to survive the curves so do bring if you are prone to motion sickness (my husband was fine). The views are wonderful and no worries once you board.
We found driving to be challenging. We got lost. A lot. With and without google maps. The small towns have very narrow roads and while they are two way, only one car can pass through at a time. So when two cars are present, one must back up. My husband has better depth perception than I, so he drove in the small towns most of the time. Then when I did drive, he disliked being responsible for navigation. So basically he mostly drove and I mostly navigated.
I actually think the Greeks are very skilled drivers. I was constantly impressed by how they could maneuver. And I don’t think they take any more risks than what I see Americans do regularly.
We did not find driving on the mainland to Delphi and Meteora to be difficult but maybe that is because we had just survived Crete.
We used Autorentals Crete in Crete (352 Euros for 6 days for automatic) and Athens Car Rental on the mainland (260 Euros for three days for automatic). We rented a manual jeep for the day in Kissamos from Keramoti Rent a Car (50 Euros, 60 with A/C). Gas is expensive-about $10/gallon. We spent about 100 Euros on Crete for six day rental and similar on the mainland for three (we drove further).

Here is our general itinerary with the hotel we stayed in and what we paid, and whether or not that included breakfast. I booked all hotels through Booking.com, which simplified things considering how many places we stayed, except for Arvanes in Thronos which was not available on it. I paid attention to location and room size and having an outdoor area to sit in. We mostly stayed in smaller family owned places. On Crete, we paid 50 to 80 Euros a night for two. Our most expensive stay was at Avra in Rafina (136 Euros including breakfast) the night before flying back to U.S.

5/22 Arrive Chania (3 nights) Studio Kiara (55 Euros/night)
5/25 8:30 am bus from Chania to Chora Sfakion then ferry to Agia Roumeli (1 night) Calypso Hotel (50 Euros/night)
Walk Samarian Gorge from bottom to Samaria
Ferry to Sougia at 5:30 pm
5/26-5/28 Sougia (2 nights) Santa Irene (57 Euros/night)
5/28 – 5/30 return to Chania (7 am bus) and rent car. 2 nights in Kissimos. Castell Hotel (56 Euros/night)
Rent Jeep to drive to Balos.
5/30 Drive to Amari Valley- Stop in Rethimno and at Moni Arakadiou and then to Thronos (1 night)
Arvanes (60 Euros including breakfast)
5/31 Drive through east side of valley to Zaros where spent night (1 night) Keramos (54 Euros/night including breakfast)
6/1-6/3 Visit Gortys, visit winery, drive to Archanes, spend night in Archanes (2 nights Archanes)
Arhontiko hotel. (80 Euros)
6/2 Knossos and then bus to Irakio to visit Archaeological museum

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Itinerary continued

6/3 11:35 am flight to Athens, rent car, drive to Delphi, overnight (1 night Delphi) Arion Hotel (54 Euros including breakfast)
6/4-6/5 Meteora (2 nights Kastraki) Hotel Doupiani House (99 Euros a night, including breakfast)
6/6 drive in PM to Rafina Avra Hotel (136 Euros including breakfast)
6/7 return car at airport and fly home

Day 1 Chania
How do you know you are back in Greece? You taste the wonderful soft white cheese that we at least cannot find locally and you are again instructed by signs at every establishment to put toilet paper in the trash can provided (and not the toilet). Then you encounter cats. Everywhere.

We began our trip in Chania. The building we stay in, Kiara, named for the owner, has four rooms. We have reserved the one on the top floor which requires climbing multiple staircases (and the last is steep) but the reward is a roof deck we have all to ourselves. It is the nicest outdoor area we have on our trip. You can see the sea from the roof and you can see down the Venetian styled street. There is a large umbrella we can put up to provide shade from the sun. We eat breakfast here every day and spend parts of our evenings as well. On the flight over from Athens a woman in my row was local. She was very approving of the choice to stay on Theotokopoulou, which is the street our place is on. It is part of the old town of Chania which is pedestrianized (taxis drop you off at the end of the street).We were in Venice last summer and Chania looks so similar that we find ourselves looking for the canals. It is easier to navigate than Venice despite its labyrinth passages as you just have to remember where the sea is. Its winding streets are filled with bougainvillea and jasmine. The old town is entirely given over to tourism but we find ourselves not really minding. It is such a pretty place.

We eat dinner at Strata and we certainly would recommend. It is a bit off the main path that tourists frequent and has lots of outdoor tables. I had the best moussaka I have ever had and my husband was pleased with his food too. The tradition in Crete is that we you ask for the bill, they bring you raki and a small desert. A winery we visit later tells us the restaurants water down the raki but maybe that is why I actually learn to drink it. When we were in Greece before we were given ouzo which has more of a licorice taste than raki. It also seemed more potent and I never could tolerate it.

Day2 Chania
I visit the bakery downstairs for the second time since arriving. We probably went there a half dozen times in three days. They have pastries but also spinach and cheese pies that are more substantial. The staff in the restaurants and shops all wear masks but I notice the tourists seldom do, despite the signs. We do even at home where it is not required but it seems to us that in Crete it is simply respecting local rules.
We mostly wander around this day. We walk down the waterfront taking too many pictures. There are some interesting buildings, including a former mosque that you can enter (as long as you are wearing a mask-they are strict). The Venetian harbor is from the 14th century but the lighthouse is from the 16th century Venetian, Egyptian and Ottoman influences. The lighthouse is touted as one of the oldest light houses, not only in Greece and the Mediterranean, but also in the world. We walk on the walls to the lighthouse. There are tourists but not so many as to be unpleasant. We do not hear much English, however. Here as well as all the other places we go in Crete, we encounter few Americans. The English we do hear is from the mouths of those from the UK. In Chania, we see lots Europeans traveling with children—usually preschoolers as school year has not yet ended for the summer.

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Day 2 continued

Later we search for and find the Turkish section. There are some minarets but not too much else other than designation on a map to let you know that is where you are. The architecture does not seem that different but we wander into a grocery store and the goods are different than those of other similar stores.
We stop at a small restaurant for lunch. Several tour groups following someone with a flag pass by. Someone tells us that a cruise boat is in town. We are glad we are sitting watching not following the guide around town. We have gyros for lunch but are disappointed that it isn’t shaved meat like we expected but rather pieces of meat. The pita is different too-it has cuts in it rather than being one piece as that we are accustomed. And it has French fries in it. We are quickly discovering that there are subtle differences in the food in Crete compared to other places in Greece we have been. There are Cretan specialties, such as lamb risotto (delicious but nothing like Italian risotto), as well as local variations of food found more broadly in Greece. For example, the spanakopita wasn’t made of phyllo dough as we found elsewhere but rather the spinach mixture is encased in pastry more like in a pie.
We find the bus station and discover that the bus to Chora Safeion does not leave when I think it does. Our choice is actually between 7 am and 2 pm not 8:30 am. We opt for 2 pm. Our plan is to take the bus to the south coast and then a ferry to Agia Romaneli where we will spend the night prior to hiking the Samarian Gorge from the bottom not the top. We had watched several you-tube videos of the hike and decided against the steep decent as my husband had torn his ACL and minacious a few years ago. Stairs can give his knee trouble and the decent is all stairs.

Day 3
We learned yesterday that the archeological museum had moved out of the old town into a new building and had just reopened. I found it on a city map and it was in the same area as the residence of Eleftherios Venizelos who was a prominent leader of the Greek national liberation movement and served as prime minister of Greece seven times. We had taken hop of and on buses in a couple American cities and found them to be a reasonable way to see sites spread out. My feet were also giving me some trouble so I didn’t want to walk that far. I had seen signs for hop off and on busses all over old town and yesterday spoke to a driver who told us the buses started up at 10:30 am. That was a little later than ideal but we made our way to stop 1 which was close to where we were staying. The person there said there were no cruise boats today, which generally I would have thought was a good thing, but that meant the bus started later. The part of me that wondered if we should do this was overrode by the part of me that didn’t want to walk to the bus station and figure out how else to get there. The part of me that thought it wasn’t a good idea was right. In fact, I would say that every time we thought something wasn’t a good idea, we should have stopped. However, that wasn’t a lesson we heeded until late into our trip. Most of the time we tended to forge ahead to our regret.

We started off a little after 11 am and the bus made its way through town. When it got to the center of the new town at the court house my husband wanted to get off to take pictures. We did and then proceeded to walk a fair distance (maybe a mile) to the Eleftherios Venizelos’ house and museum. This part of the day was splendid. The house was beautifully furnished and gave us a window into that time in Greece. We learned more about the man and the Greek liberation movement. I would strongly recommend a visit.

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Day 3 continued

After finishing, we picked up some sandwiches nearby and ate them in a local park. We managed to locate the new archeological museum only blocks away which we then found out was closed on Tuesdays. Goggle had said it opened at 9 am that morning but I must admit I didn’t not actually look at the website. A mistake. So we decided to try to pick up the hop off and on bus again. The man in the sandwich shop pointed to the bus stop next to Eleftherios Venizelos’ house and museum but there was not the tell-tale red signs for the hop on and off bus that we had seen in old town. We wandered around for awhile trying to find a red sign but finally elected to walk back to the stop where we had gotten off, which wasn’t that pleasant as the temperature had risen, only to find that stop did not have the red signs either. Apparently, they were only displayed in old town but we had not noticed when we departed the bus. But we did catch the bus there and proceeded to wind our way through the outskirts of Chania. However, when we wanted to get off at the site of Eleftherios Venizelos grave, we were told there was only one more bus that day. We now we were basically in the middle of nowhere so decided it was too risky and stayed on the bus. The bus was supposed to run all day but apparently because of the lack of cruise boat passengers to fill it, they had shortened it by ½ hour in the morning but by two hours in the afternoon. We enjoyed the rest of the scenery but agreed that the hop on and off bus was not a very good choice for the day.

Dinner was one of the best of our trip. We ate at Tamam, behind the harbour on Zampeliou Street where I had made reservations a few days earlier. The outside area is small but we lucked out and got a table for four for just my husband and me. That meant we had some buffer from the crowds of people who walk down the narrow passage past the tables. I had lamb chops which were absolutely wonderful and led me astray in that I kept ordering them in other restaurants hoping to repeat the experience only to be disappointed by how dry they were. I think my husband and I collectively ordered lamb dishes about six or seven times and only half of the time were we really happy with the outcome.

Day 4
Last night while walking down to the promenade by the sea we had come upon the naval museum which we had thought was at the other end. It turned out that there are two naval museums and the closed museum was the one with the replica of the Minoan ship that had sailed all the way to Athens. While we had wanted to see the ship, we were happy to find at least part of the museum open. It is a small museum that we saw fairly comprehensively in about an hour. It tells naval history and has some replicas of ships. Since Greece has always been a seafaring country, the museum told much of the history of Greece through another lens.

Afterwards, we walked through the tunnel to a well preserved fortified section of the walls. There is no admission charge here so well worth a visit even if you don’t go to the museum. We climbed up to the top and took some pictures.

We then set out to find the top of the walled city which required a few restarts as we ended up down dead end streets, even with the help of a map. The top of the old city had gorgeous views and chairs scattered around for sitting but was surprisingly unkempt with litter. There were a few establishments that had a bit of a bohemian style. It might have been a good place to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the view. We had no food with us though and had to go back to our hotel to pick up our luggage.

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Day 4 continued

With our luggage in tow, we went back to the water front and had lunch at Amphora which is near the end by the naval museum we had just visited. The view was lovely and my husband’s salad was splendid but the pizza I ordered was really lousy. When we had been in Greece earlier we had pizza several times and it was always excellent—almost like we were in Italy. This tasted like a bad frozen pizza. Our son and his girlfriend who we met up with later went here and enjoyed their dinners so it seems the advice is to avoid the pizza not the restaurant.
We then took the bus to Chora Sfakion and the ferry to Agia Roumeli. I am prone to motion sickness so brought Dramamine which proved to be very wise. I took one pill but then after we moved to the back of the bus after to avoid all the maskless passengers, I had to take a second one. The road is actually pretty good if you desire to drive, but the bus only stops a few times. There were some high school students who get on in Chania and get off in some small towns. I talked to them a bit and it isn’t unusual for students to attend school in Chania. It was about a 30 minute bus ride which is actually probably shorter than in many urban areas.
The scenery is quite spectacular and we really enjoy being able to sit back, relax, and enjoy it.
Once we arrive, we follow the crowd down the hill to the ferry which arrives shortly. Apparently, the bus and ferry are coordinated. The ferry ride was a real treat as we sailed past beautiful beaches, a rocky coast, and Loutro where we seriously considered staying but eventually chose Sougia over. It is so pretty from the water that I wonder if we made a mistake. About 40 minutes after leaving Chora Sfakion, we arrive in Agia Romenli, which is where the Samarian Gorge trail ends. There are no roads to here so you either hike through the gorge or take the ferry like we did. The south west coast is amazingly undeveloped. Our hotel is close to the ferry dock and we check in and wander around the blocks long town buying food for breakfast and lunch for our hike the next day.

We had bought a bottle of wine at the grocery store in Chania that we had not finished and managed to bring with us. We decide to finish the bottle of wine with takeout from the restaurant below our hotel and eat on our small balcony as we take in the views of the pebbly beach and sea. This also allowed us to avoid the ritual of dinner that takes all night. We don’t eat out much at home and after only a few days in Greece, I was already ready to have a break from spending the entire night having dinner.

I was a bit nervous about hiking the Samarian Gorge the next day as I had begun having some foot problems not too long ago. I was glad we decided to hike from the bottom because that gave us more control over how far we would go. If you hike from the top, you really are committed to finishing the hike (or hike back up the steep staircase). The decline in elevation is most pronounced at the traditional beginning of the hike and the elevation incline from the bottom is very gradual until you pass the half way point of the hike. I rewrap my second toe (the source of the problem-pre-dislocation syndrome) and wrap my foot as well with rather expensive tape I bought from the second podiatrist I saw. Fortunately, this really did the trick and I started carrying the tape and manicure scissors in my back pack. For the rest of the trip, I would rewrap my toe and/or foot if it started to ache. I also used ice many times at the end of the day. I had brought a hot water bottle for this purpose and the places we rented all had refrigerators. The tape and ice together with orthotics saved my ability to be active on our trip.

More later...

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Oh boy, excited to read this! You do great reports and Crete is on our top travel list after falling in love with Greece on a RS tour in 2019! Thanks!

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Thanks! I remembered that you asked for a trip report when we returned from Crete. Here is some more.

Day 5

We leave our hotel at about 8:15am with backpacks filled with water, food, and snacks. It takes us 45 minutes to reach the official entrance to the hike where we pay 5 Euros each and find out that 35 people have proceeded us that morning. It is only about 2 kilometers gently uphill on a sidewalk through agricultural farm land to the entrance but my husband must photograph every plant, goat and sheep he sees. Once we enter the park, the landscape changes. It really is magical. In the morning shade, are cliffs on both sides of a river that we must continually cross. At first there are proper bridges which are then replaced by branches tied together. At first, these make us a bit nervous but they are very sturdy and steady and we soon adapt. But then these are replaced by stepping stones. The entire path in fact is populated by round grey stones that have been smoothed by the river. It is not difficult but requires balance and attention. It isn’t the kind of hike that you can phase out and think your own thoughts like I do on the flat terrain near where we live. I am glad for my hiking sticks even though they meant that we checked out luggage. Coming to Greece that actually simplified our lives as our bags were checked through to Chania. The planes to the islands are not very big and unless your bag is really small, you end up checking anyway for that leg of the trip which is what we did four years earlier when we first visited Greece.

The first official rest stop is Christos which has picnic tables under big trees and squat toilets. The only one there is a park official sitting at a table. We linger about 15 minutes and decide to go on to Samaria which is the deserted village the trail is named for. The inhabitants were relocated when the park was created in the 1960s. It is about ½ way through the trail after the steep descent from the trail head. My feet feel fine and Christos doesn’t seem like far enough to hike, given the fact we took a bus and a ferry to get here.

The trail gets a little steeper as we hike towards Samaria. After about a half hour we encounter the first people on the trail who we excitedly talk to. They had started at the top and clearly are ahead of the pack. We don’t see anyone else for another 20 minutes but then the hikers start passing by us-first in in dribbles but before we reach Samaria, it is a constant stream of hikers on their way to the bottom. It takes us two hours to reach Samaria and we are ready for lunch and a break.

We see ruins from the town probably 20 minutes before we arrive at the rest stop. It is hard to believe that people lived here in this isolated place until the middle of the last century. There are no roads and no water ways. There is only a demanding hike out. They had to be mostly self-sufficient.

The rest stop is full of picnic tables with hikers so we find ourselves a wall to sit on in the shade and enjoy our lunch. We watch the coming and goings of hikers. I take my hiking shoes off to rest my feet. I have a blister on one heel and I put a Band-Aid on it. But generally my feet feel fine which is a good thing since there is no way out, except to walk.

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Day 5 continued

The walk back is not as pleasant as the sun is out and there are tons of hikers. We are in our early 60s and the younger hikers seem to skip over all the stones that we carefully plant our feet on. We allow faster hikers to pass which slows our progress. On the way, we encounter park rangers guiding donkeys loaded up with packages of trash. I think donkeys have always been the means by which supplies are trekked in and out of Samaria. It takes us the same two hours to return to Christos as it did to hike from it, even though the trail is a gradual downhill one. We do not stop long but continue to finish the hike. The last segment takes us an hour. At the entrance, you must check out by giving the receipt of your ticket so that the park service knows you have left (no camping is permitted). We walk by establishments serving drinks and the like to the place a small van shuttles people back and forth to the ferry. My husband wants to walk and I am not keen on being separated so we walk together the last 2 kilometers stopping a bench for awhile.
I had thought we would be back to town in time to swim at the beach but we aren’t. We only have time to buy some ice cream and eat it in the shade, fetch our bags from the hotel, and make our way to the 5:30 pm ferry. There are two ferries in dock—the larger one is ours to Sougia where most of the hikers will take a bus back to Chania. According to my iphone, we walked over 30,000 steps this day.
The ferry ride is beautiful once again. The coast is part of the E4 trail. The stretch between Agia Romenili and Sougia is reportedly the most difficult. We met a woman on the ferry the day before who was hiking the E4 trail for the third time. She told me she never hikes that section.
In Sougia, we find our hotel. We have a room in an older hotel with a restaurant run by the same family along the main road. Once again we have a small kitchen and a rooftop terrace. This time though our room is up two flights of steps and then the staircase to the terrace is off the room which means fewer steps to get to our room than in Chania. The town is very small so the main road has only a few cars and is mostly used by pedestrians.

We end up loving Sougia. Our son and his girlfriend who visited after us were so taken by it that they decided to name their future Golden Retriever Sougia. It is hard to explain its charm. I took a few pictures the morning we left and there is nothing particularly charming about the architecture of the town. It is very ordinary looking. It is the people and the town’s laid back and not pretentious beach vibe that captures your heart. We find a small grocery store and a bakery around the corner that we visit repeatedly over the couple days we are here. They recognize us quickly and chat with us. The day we arrived, woman working in the bakery was the same person we bought our return tickets to Chania from a few hours earlier. When we pointed that out, she told us that was her twin sister! We told her no, she had the same (rather distinctive) tee shirt on. She laughed. In response to our query about what time the bakery opened, she told us five am. When my husband, asked her when she slept, she told him in the winter!

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Day 5 continued
We ate that night at Anchorage which was one of the best restaurants of our trip. I had the special of the day which was a pasta dish with vegetables perfectly seasoned. We had grilled mushrooms as an appetizer. But just as rewarding were the conversations we ended up having with adjacent tables. The two men at the table closest to us started talking to us after we had finished dinner. We were receptive as it had been only the two of us for almost a week now. They lived in Berlin but one of them was from Spain. My husband asked whether there were refuges from Ukraine in Berlin and a woman from another table joined in. She told us she was from Ukraine but had lived in Poland for 20 years, apparently married to a local. She told us that she had family still in Ukraine but she could not get them to leave. She could not help them but was housing refugees in her home. She also told us that she had come to Sougia every year for seven years and the men chimed in that they had been coming for 3 or 4. It is that kind of place-one that people return to.

Day 6
The next morning about 10 am we decide to hike part of the E4 trail to Lissos. The Lonely Planet guidebook we have been relying on for our trip to Crete characterizes it as a “pleasant hike”. I would beg to disagree. It is uphill for quite a while, then flat finally, and then a very steep descent. It does have beautiful views of the sea from above and the landscape on the flat section is distinct. There were other people hiking it but nothing like the Samarian trial the day before. Some of them turned around because they said it was too hot (they were from Ireland). Others we spoke to did not seem to be phased by it, even though I would guess they were 10 years older than us. We spoke to them again later at the beach at Lissos and they were from Innsbruck, Austria. Years ago in our 20s we went on a guided hike to the mountains in the area with a man who is now our age. We could not walk the next day! Clearly, active people in that area are used to more terrain than we are in flat south Florida where the biggest hill is a former garbage dump now covered in grass!

We spend a long time after we do finally arrive at Lissos eating lunch in the shade on a picnic table entertained by the stray cats. There are cats everywhere in Crete but they do not seem to be feral in the same way as those we saw in Rome years ago. They are used to people and the two we encounter this day basically beg for food. We oblige them and they come sit next to us on the bench.
There are two small chapels with frescos that we visit and considerable ruins of buildings that we really cannot identify. So we make our way to the pebble beach where we park ourselves in the shade of a rock. My husband swims but I only wade. I have light demin shorts on that I could have gotten wet but did not want to. There are maybe 10 people on the beach and I see several of the women changing in or out of bathing suits. But they all (regardless of age) are wearing bikinis while I wear a one piece which is not as easy to maneuver on and off.
There is a water taxi that goes to and from the Lissos beach that about a half dozen of us take back to Sougia. There was no way I wanted to hike back, especially after a long day of hiking the Samarian gorge the day before. It turns out to be very fun ride. The boat goes pretty fast which is a bit of a thrill and soon we are back in town.

We spend the rest of the afternoon on chairs at the beach with a big umbrella. I am partial to chairs at the beach anyway but the pebbly beach certainly encourages their use. It is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. But I must admit I wished we had one more day in Sougia to do nothing.

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Beth — thank you for all this detail! Extremely helpful. We will be following in your footsteps in September.

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Charlene-you will love it there! Here is some more.

Day 7
We are up early because we have to catch a 7 am bus to Chania. It is only a two minute walk from our hotel to where we bought our return bus tickets and we are the first to arrive . But soon we are joined by others, mostly obviously equipped for the Samarian gorge hike. The bus stops in Omala which is where the hike begins. Starting in Sougia means that these hikers can avoid the two hour bus ride back to Chania after hiking the Samarian Gorge (and taking the ferry)

We seat ourselves in the back to start this time which is not crowded at all allowing my husband to change sides of the bus depending upon the scenery. The road is narrower and has more twists in it than the one to Chora Sfakion. As you might expect, the scenery is also more spectacular. My husband wanted to take the bus to the coast because it allowed us to experience the scenery on two different routes and we agree it was a good decision.

We are to meet our son and his girlfriend at the bus station in Chania. They have traveled to Istanbul and have been in Chania a few days now. We are to go together to Kissamos where we will visit Balos. My son has traveled to Europe a couple times, the last on Norwegian Air before they went defunct with only a small backpack so he didn’t have to pay for luggage. Thus, I am shocked when he rolls up with a waist high suitcase in tow. I must confess that rather than returning his hello I said something to the effect “I can’t believe how big that suitcase is!” I guess they had to pay to check and decided to take one large suitcase to minimize charges. They have rented a car as well but at the airport so as soon as we have our car, we set out. Their (very) large bag fits in the trunk as well as one of our carry on size bags. Our other bag ends up in the backseat between them.

They have not traveled light. They have to return to the hotel they stayed at to pick up the inflatable paddle board they also brought. We agree to meet at Astrikas Estate Biolea in Kolympari, an olive oil factory near Kissamos which offers tours. As it turns out, they beat us there.

Goggle maps keeps taking us down all sorts of roads that are supposed to take us to the olive oil factory but don’t. At one point, we are on a dirt road going through the middle of an olive grove! We had about decided to skip the olive oil factory and go to the winery that was next on our schedule when our son texted us that they are at the factory. They send us a pin and we manage to arrive just minutes before a tour is to start. Our son tells us later that he used to directions on the website not google maps and the woman who leads our tour tells me in response to me telling her how much trouble we had finding the place, that she has had people calling in tears because they were so lost!

But it was worth the aggravation. The facility is on top of hill and the view is beautiful. On our tour, we learn about the history of olive oil production and how olive oil is traditionally produced. Our guide explains how Biolea emulates this traditional production except that now the olives are stone pressed mechanically rather than by hand. The factory is committed to organic production and to being as environmentally sustainable as possible. Our guide explains their practices and how they contrast with more mainstream ones. Since the olive oil is only produced in the fall, she takes us into the rooms where the machinery is to explain the process. At the end, we take off our masks to taste the olive oil which I must say I have never done. Consequently, it is difficult for me to compare their olive oil to the standard grocery store brands. But still, since we are checking our bags anyway due to our hiking poles, we buy several bottles.

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Continued

Since arriving home, I have used a ½ cup of it in a lemon pasta dish and I must say the dish was better than I remembered! I would certainly recommend a visit if you are in the area but for your sanity, do not rely on goggle maps!

We follow our son and his girlfriend (having had it with navigating) to Pnevmatikakis Wintery which is close by. I had corresponded by email with them prior to arrival and they assured me we could have a tour. Unlike the larger more commercial wineries, there is no charge for a tour. Basically, they create a tour for us and we are taken to the area where the wine is produced. There is no activity today. We had a wine tour when we visited previously in 2018 and I was struck then by the differences between the US and Greece. In the US, it is mostly a tasting occasion while in Greece you are taken behind the scenes. We even watched the labeling of the bottles. There was a small museum on the top floor where we were able to learn about traditional wine making. Our guide then explained about the different wines. Interestingly enough, he gave his explanations and then left us alone to test the wine. We followed his directions in terms of the order for tasting and selected out a few to purchase which we did downstairs before leaving. We bought three bottles and our son and his girlfriend two but we selected the same varieties. They were the ones that had awards. We were not sure if we recognized their superiority or were influenced by that information!

We then make our way to Kissamos and find our hotel. Our hotel is newer than the places we have stayed in thus far and we must admit we enjoyed the fact it had a large shower with a real shower head (not hand held). They also did our laundry for free. I enjoyed chatting with the man at the front desk who told me he was from Athens. I asked him how he ended up in Crete and he said his mother was from Crete. He said he didn’t like how crowded Athens was and he had found a job at this hotel 10 years ago. However, the balcony I thought I had was not a real balcony but rather more of a Juliet one. I was sorry about that, as we missed our outdoor space but otherwise we really liked the place. The initial plan had been to go to Falasarna for dinner and the sunset Falsarna is known for. But we are tired and do not feel like finding another place or driving back after dark. We settle for shopping for breakfast and lunch the next day and dinner at the restaurant down by the water where my son’s girlfriend and I both had lamb risotto. Lamb risotto is apparently served at weddings as the waiter pointedly told the two young people. It is delicious but very rich.

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Beth- I am enjoying your trip report! I recall your first trip to Greece, following our tour. I am definitely bookmarking! Glad you enjoyed your stay. ;)

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Thanks so much for sharing this! Funny enough towards the tail end of our London/Scotland trip we were discussing where we'd like to go next and island hopping in Greece was choice #1 (with Spain a close 2nd, so those will likely be our next 2 trips). Now you got me thinkin' about that soft white cheese!

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1100 posts

Thanks Beth for the trip report.
I would love to go to Greece, but I wilt in the heat, so have been avoiding it.
I am glad you had such a great time.

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2219 posts

Beth, how did you plan the logistics? How did you know where to rent the car and where to take the bus?

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1799 posts

Janis--I recall your reports too!

1885BD-We went to UK after our first trip to Greece. The contrast is interesting.

vandubrud-the islands are cooler than the mainland so don't automatically eliminate Greece. It depends how hot you can tolerate. We have been twice to Greece in May starting in the islands and both times the temperatures have been in high 70s to 80s. The mainland, however, in early June has been in the 90s. Quite toasty.

Tammy- Crete has a great bus system and you can go most places but it isn't so easy to stop along the way, if you know what I mean.
I was considering not driving at all and asked about driving on this board and got a range of responses. I was most taken with Stanbr's response where he detailed how he and his wife had combined the two. He had taken the bus to the south coast so I looked into that using the internet. We decided to take a bus to one town on the coast and another back to have the opportunity to see more of the mountains. We took the ferry between towns which is the only way you can travel where we went. It also was cheaper than leaving a parked car. My son and his girlfriend, in contrast, drove to Chora Sfakion and after spending the night there, left the car and took the ferry to other towns returning to their car and driving back to Chania.

We did buy our tickets after we arrived but the before we planned to take our bus trip. This allowed me to double check the times which was a good thing. In one case, I had the wrong time.

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Here is some more, for those interested.

Day 8

Today we go to Balos. We rent a manual jeep after much deliberation. The options are to take a boat which goes to Gramvousa where there is a fortress as well, take a 4 by 4 van, or drive. Standard rental cars are prohibited from going on gravel roads, although we do see lots in the parking lot. We had seen pictures of crowded boats and eliminated that option. We had intended to go on the 4 by 4 van but then they changed their schedule so that the 8 am trip came back at 1 pm. Given that it took an hour to get there and a half hour to hike down or up, that didn’t come out to any more time than the boat. So we rent a jeep. They do not come as automatics.

I drove a manual for 25 years and my husband for probably 20 but do not now. I drove last in 2018 on Naxos, a fact that becomes painfully obvious. The car is parked in front of the rental place facing the opposite way than we need to go. The rental car representative is telling me how to go in reverse and put the emergency break on (both that are very different than what I have ever done) and I put my foot on the break and gas instead of the clutch and gas. He for obvious reasons starts expressing his hesitation at me driving. I reassure him but he stands outside watching me turn the car around and drive past him. Fortunately, I managed this perfectly and wave good-by at him.
The drive there actually went very well. After you pay a toll (I think a Euro), the road is mostly gravel. It sometimes is only a lane and a half so a bit dicey if there is two way traffic. Fortunately because it is still early, I only encounter one car coming the other way and the road is wide enough at that point for us to pass each other. The speed limit is 20 kilometers/hour and I drive at that speed all the way. The views are beautiful, although I must admit I was more focused on the road than the scenery. There were a few regular cars that pulled over to let us pass. So regular cars really can’t even drive that fast.

We saw a well worn path out of the parking lot and some people going that way and wrongly assumed it was the path down to Balos Beach. It was not. As we discovered when we finally pulled out a map after about 30 minutes, there is a path that goes to the tip of the peninsula and we were well on our way there. I had thought the path didn’t look right but like in Chania did not turn around. We did not consider that there could be another path out of the parking lot. So an hour after we arrived we started down the correct path which was easier than the one we had been on. I had worn sneakers instead of hiking boots a fact that I regretted while hiking to the end of the peninsula. They were suitable for the path to the beach and in fact many had less sturdy shoes.
The views going down were simply splendid and we took too many pictures. By the time we got down to the beach, the boat from Gramvousa had already arrived. So much for beating the crowds. Still we find chairs and an umbrella to rent and settle in. It then gets cloudy and actually cold so we move our chairs into the sun. Later in the day after the boat leaves at 3, the weather is beautiful again and the beach has half the people it had earlier. It is the end of May and even before the boat left, the beach was not unbearably crowded. The advantage it seems of not coming during high season. The water is warm enough to swim in, although very shallow so we mostly wade. It is lovely.

On the way back to the parking lot, we encounter goats and more goats. They hang out the parking lot as well, resting in the shade of a car. I sit down and peeled an orange and a goat comes over to get the rind. I had thrown most of it in the trash but gave him one piece that had fallen on the ground. That was a mistake. He would not leave me alone until I finally got back into the jeep!

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Going back to Kissamos there was a lot more traffic but all going into town. There were a number of pickup trucks that passed me. They also had 4 by 4 and were clearly more comfortable than I driving fast. The car representative later told us that they were probably locals which made sense. I pulled over when I could to let them pass and sometimes they just went around me anyway. The way out on the gravel road though went smoothly until we were going through some town and I stalled the car on a hill. I had not shifted down as quickly as I should have. I couldn’t seem to get the car started again and of course there was a lineup of people behind me. I was a bit frazzled and my husband offered to try and I gladly let him. He didn’t have an easy time either and motioned for the people to move back as the car kept going backwards. Finally, he got the car started again and we drove back into Kissamos right to the gas station next to the car rental. The representative from the car rental was outside. I got out and told him that things had gone well except for the one hill. Then my husband, who had not paid attention to the representative’s instruction on the emergency break, tried to park the car in the lot and almost drove it into the fence! I am sure the representative was glad to get the car back in one piece!!!
Day 9

Today we go to Thronos in the Amalfi Valley which was one of the major reasons we had rented a car. On the way, we stop at Rehthymno. Like Chania, it had a Venetian old town and my husband, in particular, was eager to visit.
Goggle maps redeemed itself today. We put it on and wove our way to the highway on the north coast. What amazed us most was how it took us down this small road to an entrance ramp. There were no signs indicating which way the highway was like you would have in the U.S. and even more striking is that there wasn’t even a sign indicating that there was an entrance ramp! Driving in Crete certainly was an adventure.

The road though was good and the drive pleasant with flowering shrubs on both sides. It was often two lanes though with a wide shoulder. The practice in Greece is for cars to pass and the car being passed to move over to the shoulder. It actually works quite well and we quickly learn to follow this practice although I must admit I can’t help wonder why not make the shoulder into another lane. At least on the highway where the shoulder is quite wide already, it would not require very much work.
We drive into Rethymno and find parking in the third lot we drive through. There are a series of lots on the west side of town towards the walled Venetian fortress. There are at least two more we pass as we walk to the fortress that have space. Now we are here on a Monday in late May so I would expect the parking situation could be more difficult on a weekend or in high season.
The fortress in Rethymno is far more intact than in Chania where there are just ruins that you can walk on. We pay the entrance fee and wander for an hour or two. There are beautiful views over the city with snow capped mountains in the background which invite pictures. It was built by the Venetians in the 1500s but captured by the Ottomans in the 1600s. Today there are a few historic buildings you can visit. My favorite was the mosque with its intricate tilework.

After our visit we find a restaurant recommended for gyros in our Lonely Planet book. Interestingly enough, the gyros are more similar to the ones we have had elsewhere in Greece than those in Chania. The meat is shaved not chopped and the pitas do not look like waffles. There still are French fries in it though, which I remove. We find out that we have been pronouncing tzatziki incorrectly. The “t” is not pronounced. But, of course, I don’t think our new found knowledge will be that useful outside of Greece as our pronunciation is standard in the U.S.

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We then make our way to the folk museum which is housed in an old Veneitian building. It is warm in the building, especially with a mask, but the exhibits are interesting. They basically tell the story of traditional Crete. There are objects and photos from farming, weaving, pottery, and the trades. It was not so long ago that the traditional ways of life were common so I in particular was interested in learning about them.

We spend a total of about four hours in Rethymno which is not enough. Its historical section has a different feel than Chania’s but is just as charming. Although it has Venetian roots, we don’t have the same sense of being in Venice. The colors seem a bit bolder and there is more iron rod. But we like it and wish we had more time to explore. But we are planning to visit a monastery on our way to Thronos so we make our way back to our parked car.

Driving through the beautiful country side we find the Monastery of Arkadi without too much difficulty. This monastery symbolizes Cretan liberation. In 1866, the monastery was sieged by Turks and the people holed up in it lit the gunpowder killing themselves and the Turks rather than surrendering. We visit the site of the gunpowder explosion which now has no roof as well as the church and several museums. Outside the walls of the monastery, there is a memorial to the victims of the gunpowder explosion that includes an ossuary that contains the skulls of the people who died in the explosion. It is a little disconcerting looking at this beautiful cabinet filled with skulls.

After making a big circle, because I had my husband turn too soon coming out of the monastery, we drive into Thronos where we, amazingly, find our hotel Arvanes on the first try. It is located down an alley but we manage to see the sign. The streets in Thronos are very narrow and certainly were not designed for cars. Later we see that this means that one car must backup if there are cars coming from a different direction. This is the case in the remaining towns we visit in Crete—basically those in rural areas. My husband learns to do this well enough and fortunately the one time I drove in Crete I had no difficulties.

We immediately regret spending only one night at Avranes. We arrived about 5 pm and wish we had come earlier but of course would not have wanted to forego either Rethymno or the monastery. It was here and Sougia that we would have ideally had one more night. The rest of our trip we felt we did about right. The view from our room was stunning and we have a nice balcony to view it. There is no air conditioning but we are in the mountains and the door actually has a screen. I think this is the first screen I have ever seen in Europe. There is a small pool with chairs I view but do not sit in that overlook the mountains. The place is interesting. The daughters have remodeled the facility that their father who still works in the gardens built. They gather herbs from the mountain side and make olive oil soap. They have their own chickens for eggs and most of the meat is local. The rooms are simple but modern. They are known for their food. We eat dinner here and it is fabulous. There are only a few tables of people and we do wonder how they make enough money to stay in business. It seems they have a lot more business on the weekends as they are only about 30 minutes from Rethymno. We talk to some of the other guests who are staying longer. One hiked to the monastery that day which seems to us having driven from there is awfully far. Another did a driving loop around Amari valley that we attempt part of the following day. We chat a bit with one of the sisters. Both she and her husband work there but live in Rethymno. She tells me that is because Thronos has only 32 residents and they have children.

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Contineud

The following day when walking around town we do see a mother with preschool children outside in their yard so there are some children but can see how opportunities for even friends would be very limited. I cannot help wonder if rural towns like this will survive. Thronos is close enough to Rethymno that it may but what about others?

Day 10
Today our plan is to drive through the Amari Valley and end up at Zaros. The Lonely Planet guide promises “a quilt of unspoilt villages punctuated by Byzantine Churches and framed by olive groves and orchards.” In our experience, it does not quite deliver.

It starts out well. We have a delightful breakfast overlooking the mountains. We are told that we can gain entry to Agia Panagia which has faded 14th century frescos beginning at noon but in the meantime we could hike to a Minoan settlement at the edge of town. We decide to do this. The trail is uphill but well marked and at the top there is a gate that we are able to open. There are some markers in English and ruins from this ancient civilization. I have read that the Minoans were thought to be a peaceful people who did not have enemies but I wonder about that interpretation. If they had no enemies, why would they settle at the top of the hill instead of in the valley?

At 12 pm, we sit on the steps of the church and a man comes over from a small store across the street with a key and opens the church. The indoors is amazing but he firmly tells us no pictures. The floor has the oldest mosaics, remnants of an older basilica that Agia Panagia was built on. He stands outside waiting for us to finish so we do not linger too long. Afterwards, we cross the street with him and buy some drinks and snacks as a thank you for his hospitality.
We make our way to Amari and park on a square with a café. There are some customers sitting outdoors enjoying their lunch but we follow the signs to the bell tower which we climb. It gives us views over the entire town . Afterwards, we walk back to the square a different way so as to see the town which is very small. We decide to eat at the café as we did not see any other commercial establishments. The Lonely Guidebook obviously needs to be updated as it talks about a square filled with cafes but we only see one.

The owner does not speak English and we do not speak Greek but the couple at a table tell us that she wants us to follow her inside. She takes us back to the kitchen and shows us the two pots she has on the stove. It is clear we are to pick which one we want for lunch. We both choose a stew like dish as it seems to us it would benefit from a slow and long cooking time. We chose well as it is very good. We manage to pay our bill and make our way out of town.

This is the point where I wish we had just followed the signs to Fourfouras, which is what I would recommend if you follow in our footsteps. Instead, we tried to follow the driving tour through various towns. Until we finally got to Fourfouras, the towns were pretty decrepit and very difficult to navigate. There wasn’t very much to see and it wasn’t clear which road you were supposed to be following as none of them looked like a road going to another town. We rode in circles a few times. The Minoan site in a town called Monastiraki which we actually did not intend to visit but ended up there anyway was not open. There was a gate and a ticket booth but no one allowing admission. Vizari was supposed to have olive woodworking shops but they were closed. Perhaps it was for a siesta but they looked more closed than that. We walked a considerable distance through olive groves to find the remains of a 7th century church. There was not much there and we regretted the detour. The country side was beautiful but we would have enjoyed that just as much if we had taken the more direct route to Fourfouras where we did stop and enjoy a snack at a bakery. We arrived in Zaros after 5.

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continued

The hotel we stayed at Keremos was very charming and we had a beautiful view from our balcony. After resting a bit, we go to have dinner around the corner at the restaurant they recommended. It was pretty crowded and it was a buffet. With covid, that did not seem that appealing so we went looking for an alternative and really didn’t find much. There was not another restaurant in town. I knew from my research that there was a lake outside of town and a restaurant that served fish there. It would have been a better choice than the café where we ended up with what was probably a reheated frozen pizza had we had the energy. But we didn’t.

As we ate, we heard these bells and this chanting over a loud speaker. These women we asked told us it was 40 days since Easter and this was the celebration. It went on for hours. I wondered if anyone was actually in the church. The whole thing surprised us as we didn’t know that Christians used loud speakers to broadcast prayers like Moslems do. It was clear that Greek society is not as secular as American society.

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The rest of Crete:

Day 11
We start out the day eating a wonderful breakfast full of homemade bake goods outdoors when suddenly a few feet in front of us the police start walking down the street dressed like a swat team. There were maybe 10 police with masks over their face, several trucks and plenty of guns. Perhaps because of the rash of shootings in the U.S. we were pretty freaked out. We moved indoors and watched the spectacle through closed doors. It was over almost as soon as it started.

Zaros turned out to be the only town we stayed that we really did not like. It was a bit rough and the police incident did not help our comfort. It was, however, the most logical place to stay given that we had started in Thronos and wanted to visit the remains of Gortys this day and the hotel itself was quite nice.

The trip to Gortys took about 30 minutes from Zaros and was uneventful, for once. Gortys is a Roman city and we thought it would be interesting contrast to Knossos which is Minoan and of course older. Gortys is from the century before Christ while Knossos is more than a 1000 years older. I had tried to find a guide but because Gortys is less than an hour from Irakio, the tours all originate there. They also usually go to Phaestos which is another Minoan ruin that is nearby. We value variety when we travel so decided the ruins of Knossos and Gortys would suffice for this trip.

The excavated area is actually not that large considering this was once the largest Roman settlement on Crete. We discover the signs are not in English at all which has not been the case in other places we went. There are some English speaking bus tours and I stand at the fringes and eavesdrop. We also find information on the website Explore Crete which I had used in planning our trip. If you are considering going to Crete, I would highly recommend.
https://www.explorecrete.com
The most interesting part was learning about all the rules and laws that governed Gortys. They were quite sophisticated for their time. They were civil laws governing family relationships, marriage, and inheritance. For example, a divorced woman should have the property she brought to the marriage and half of the income. Adopted children were to inherit the same amount as biological children. That said, male children were favored. They inherited twice as much as daughters!

There is a large area outside the excavated area that you can also explore. It was simply amazing to walk among olive trees and see large ruins from centuries ago. Some these areas were fenced and locked so you could not enter, although you could see a lot from outside. Other times, there just were columns laying on the ground.

The map we had suggested a circular route we could follow. That part did not work very well as we could never find the road that was supposed to loop back to the main road. Instead, we found ourselves in the nearby town discussing Greek signage with some German tourists. We ended up going down what appeared to be a path only to end up on the same road we had come in. In the end, we only saw some of the ruins we had planned to see. But still the experience of walking in a field of Roman ruins was certainly unique.

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Continued

We then headed the wrong way out of the parking lot if our intention was to go toward Irakio. We realized it fairly soon as the road started going downhill as if it was approaching the coast which it was. But instead of turning around we continued for awhile (we were going pretty fast and no obvious way to turn around) and decided to take the same road we had taken that morning that had signs saying it would go to Irakio. After a few minutes on it, we saw a sign where Irakio was crossed out with a big X. We were not sure what that meant but since we had not seen any other indication that there was an issue we thought it was probably graffiti. It was not. It was the Cretan way of telling the driver they could not get to Irakio anymore that way! So after about 30 minutes we just had to turn around and go back towards Gortys.

We had decided to visit a winery on the way, since the country side around Irakio was known as wine country. We eventually arrived at Lyrarkis Winery which was, unusually, very well marked for tourists. It was different than Pnevmatikakis Winery which we had visited near Kissamos. It was more commercialized. It had an organized tour for which there was a charge and wine tasting that was outside at the edge of the wine vineyards. The tour took us into the vineyards where we learned about the grapes and the wines but we did not go into any of the production inside unlike earlier. The setting for the wine tasting was gorgeous with views of the vineyard and the mountains beyond. The specialization here was white wines unlike earlier where it was red. We bought another two bottles, including one to give to our son and his now fiancé. He had called us from the U.S. when we were in Zaros to give us the good news (memorably, I had greeted him on the phone by telling him that this was costing money, you know.)

Our last two nights on Crete were in Arhanes which is an agricultural town south of Irakio. We stay in an apartment with two floors that looks out on to a courtyard where we have a small table. A couple lives on site and manages the three apartments. We decide we have to drink some of our wine before flying to Athens in two days (we now have five bottles!) so we do take away both nights and eat in the garden entertained by the cats. It is beautiful and we enjoy walking around the town which is more upscale than most of the places we have been. The bakeries are more specialized than in Kissamos or Chania, for example, with one selling bread another sweets. And the bakery goods we purchase are placed in a box rather than a piece of paper. We sit on the square and watch the people while waiting for our food. There are lots of families walking around. It looks like a nice place to live.

Day 12
Today we go to Knossos and into Irakio. We drive to Knossos which requires first navigating down some narrowly treacherous streets to get out of town. We are a bit relieved to arrive at Knossos and park the car. There are, as the guidebook claimed, guides for hire outside the site. We talk to one and agree that we would go with her if she got another couple which she said would not be difficult. The cost would be 40 Euros a couple. We go into the site and without much ado buy tickets including the museum. And then we wait. In the meantime, bus loads of people are arriving and we start to wonder about the wisdom of wanting to split the cost. About 40 minutes after we arrived, the guide finds another couple for an English tour. They are from Norway.

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Day 12 continued

I was impressed by how our guide managed to navigate us around the crowds so we could see the site. I think this is where having only four people really helped. She said if you have more than 8 people you are required to use a microphone with earphones for tour participants. That is why the local guides limit their tours to 8. At times, we chat with the couple which is another nice benefit of having others on the tour. Plus, they ask different questions than we do.

I understand Knossos Sir Arthur Evans’ reconstruction is controversial. And certainly, there were some things that I could see were not the best decision. But overall, I liked being able to see a reconstruction rather than having to imagine what everything looked like. But then I am far from an archeologist who I appreciate feel quite differently.

After our tour, we buy tickets for the bus to Irakio. We had decided to just leave our car in the parking lot and take the bus to the archeological museum. We were tired of navigating and the bus turned out to be a good decision. It dropped us off right across from the museum. It only stopped a few times so was likely faster than if we had driven (especially considering our propensity to get lost and that we would have had to find parking as well).

The museum is extremely well done. It was air conditioned as well which we were surprised by but certainly appreciated. The museum showcases artifacts from the surrounding area with the original frescos from Knossos and some remarkable bronze statues as well as artifacts from Gortys. There is a lovely garden outside with benches and there we eat the food we have brought with us. There is a café there too with tables.

After the museum, we walked down to the waterfront where the Venetian fortress is. We do not pay to go in as we had visited a fortress in Rhethymno. Irakio is a big and modern city but there is a pedestrianized historical section that we walk through that is very pleasant. We visit a few tourist shops and buy olive oil soap and herbs. We stop in at the Church of Agios Titos but never see the skull relic of the saint which is housed there. We enjoy our short time there and feel like Irakio gets a bit of a harsh rap.

Our return is from the opposite side of the street from where we were dropped off but there is no obvious bus stop but just a crowd standing around waiting. The bus trip back to Knossos is as easy and pleasant as the trip there and we retrieve our car and return to Archanes where we have to pack for our flight back to Athens. We are now down to four bottles of wine and four bottles of olive oil, all of which take the flight to Athens without any problem (and home too!).

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Beth this report is absolutely stunning ... how you have the patience to take notes & then reconstruct the experience is beyond me ... in the past, I did so, but in the format of periodic e-mails.. which I then stitched together afterwards. YOur details, especially about what worked and what didn't, are going to be GOLD for newbies. Keep it up... wow!

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1940 posts

I was thinking the same thing — either you have an astounding memory or you took great notes. Love the stories of your misadventures — those can be some of the most memorable parts of a trip. I am still fine-tuning my September plans & this is so helpful.

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Hi Beth I have been trying to find your trip report but was not able to do so. Good friend Janet helped me out. What a great report. Since we have been to most of the places you went to I could easily follow your descriptions and could pretty much see what you were describing.
You really got around and saw a lot of Crete.

I had to laugh at your clutch story. On our last trip to Crete I never stalled the car once. On this trip I had to use the emergency brake hit the gas method. Na, that was not too successful. I probably stalled the car 10 times. Every time on a small hill.

Its too bad our timing was just off it would have been nice to meet you and have a drink on Chania waterfront.

I had to laugh at your description of Chania reminding you of Venice without the canals. I said that exact thing to one of our Greek friends and she said "of course it reminds you of Venice. The Venetians built it."

Anyway thanks for posting.

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Beth, I’m another fan of of your writing style! Magnificent! We can identify with “heading the wrong way, missing turnoffs, etc.” (we would need to take public transportation if possible!) I got a chuckle about the “X” on the sign! Good to know it wasn’t graffiti! lol. I think you had a good plan to stop for wine tasting! Sometimes the “unexpected turns” can be an opportunity ;)

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Thanks all.
Janet and Charlene-I did not take any notes and do have a good memory but not for names. And I certainly do not retain Greek spelling. But I had a detailed itinerary that I referred to in writing this up and at times went back to the Lonely Planet Guide we used. For example, I knew we went to which winery we went after Gortys but certainly did not remember how it was spelled!

The biggest thing I would have done differently was our Amari Valley drive and hopefully others can learn from us.

Stanbr-I did think of you when we were in Crete, wondering where you were! I certainly am sorry that we weren't able to meet up.
You were braver than I with a manual as we only rented it for one day which gave us enough adventures.

Janis and Charlene--The misadventures are certainly part of the adventure but if I can do anything to help either of you with plans to Crete, please let me know. I do think you can see much of it without a car. There is even a winery outside of Chania --Manousakis--that you can take a bus to a town close by and walk.

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Thanks Beth for your ongoing travel tips. Much appreciated!

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1940 posts

It has taken me a while to sit down for your report, but what a great one! It sounds like you had a marvelous time!

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Texas Travel Mom-I recall reading in your trip report that you drove to Delphi and Meteora by yourself with the "help" of goggle maps. Having done it, I now think you were very brave. The driving was not as difficult as in Crete but still we found a second person very useful for navigating.

Here is the rest--Delphi and Meteora

Day 13
We drove to the Irakio Airport and returned the car which was a pretty easy drive from Archanes, easier than to Knossos the day before. Our flight was delayed and the airport was very crowded. We worked hard to find any space where we were not jammed with other people which I do not enjoy any time but particularly with Covid. The airport did not seem to big enough for the traffic.

We contacted Athens Car Rental about our delay (about 1.5 hours) and they responded that they would be waiting. We thought we had rented the same car as on Crete but it was a different model that we actually did not like as well. It was bigger (longer) and it had some sensors in it that were not very useful. The car beeped whenever we backed out in a parking lot at the other parked cars which was annoying.

We set off on the toll road which was a relief after Crete. It had six lanes and traffic but we are from an urban area and it seemed much more familiar. The signs were in Greek and English. We stopped at rest area to pick up some food. There was even a place selling hamburgers! We though picked up some sandwiches, which while overpriced like toll plazas in Florida, were quite good.

Once we left the tollway, the rolling hills turned to mountains. The scenery around Delphi was quite stunning, much more so than I had expected. I knew there were hills from pictures but there were more mountains than we ever saw on Crete. We even passed through a ski town where I snapped from the car for our son who lives in Denver pictures of signs for ski lessons and rentals. It looked a bit like Aspen with Greek lettered signs which I certainly did not expect.

I had reserved a private tour with Georgia from Tours for Locals for 5:30 pm so with the flight delays did not give us much time. We parked on the street in town, bought some snacks, and then walked back to Delphi which we had passed coming in. We debated a lot about hiring a private guide once it became clear that I couldn’t find a group tour. We had visited Mycenae in 2018 without a guide and found it frustrating. We had a guide for Athens and it was wonderful. It was $175 for 2.5 hours (half in evening and half the next morning so much more expensive than what we did in Knossos.

It was lovely walking up Delphi in the evening with our guide and gaining a better understanding of the site. It was not crowded at all. I saw one couple where the woman was reading to the man from their guidebook. I was glad we were not doing that. I also find when there are only ruins that sometimes it is hard to even find what a guidebook is describing. Still, I would have preferred a small group tour had I been able to find one. And not just because of the money. I don’t think either my husband or I, despite doing some reading and watching of episodes of Great Courses focusing on Delphi, had a particularly deep understanding. I suspect that Georgia is more used to guiding people who have more background than us. I did feel like her level of expertise was a bit wasted on us.

Afterwards, we attempted to drive to our hotel. I had a map from a restaurant we had stopped in to look at but it turned out to be a walking map! My husband drove up a one way street! I guess we had become too accustomed to Crete where every street, regardless of how narrow, was two way. We stayed at Arion Hotel which we liked but had chosen because my husband liked the fact that the balcony is not completely adjacent to the next room. What that means, which was not obvious on the photos, is the balcony is very small.

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Continued

And we can still talk with our neighbors which we do when we realize they are the two women we had spoken to in town. Turns out they are going, like us, to Meteora tomorrow and we joke about seeing them there too. As it happens, we do. They are coming out of a monastery, as we are going in! It is such a small world sometimes.

We have dinner at a restaurant that has the same owner as the hotel and we get a discount. We find out when our waiter asks us which room we are staying at after our very good meal that our waiter is actually the owner of both the hotel and the restaurant!

Day 14

We meet Georgia again outside the museum at 8 am when it opens. I thought that would mean we would have the museum to ourselves but we don’t. There are actually tour groups that arrive at 8 am that stayed in Delphi for the night. I find them distracting as their guides speak quite loudly so the tour participants can hear. One group in particular always seems to be where we are. Other than this, the museum was fabulous. The museum contained only statures and ruins from Delphi. I had not been to such a focused museum in Greece and enjoyed the fact that all the displays are from places I had already seen.

Our tour lasted about an hour and afterwards we drove (the correct way) back to our hotel for breakfast. Breakfast didn’t open until 8 am so eating afterwards was our only choice. Breakfast was respectable but nothing like Keremos in Zaros. Afterwards we packed up and drove to Kastraki where we were staying to see Meteora.

The drive for the first hour or so was stunning. Then the GPS took us through flat plains and a few small towns that weren’t the way my paper map of Greece suggested but worked. It was two lane highways often with lots of curves at least at first but it still was much easier than driving in Crete. After we stop to get gas, I drive. At the first round about I somehow miss the correct lane and go the wrong way up the next one. Then at the next light, the policeman in the marked car in the next lane starts talking to me in Greek. I look at him as if I am paying attention but do not respond since I do not understand a word of Greek. I am thinking about where my driver’s license is and wondering how much a ticket is. Then he shifts into English and basically tells me to be more careful when driving and sped off. I am relieved and am overly alert for the next half hour before I settle into driving.

The guidebook I have on Northern Greece talks about driving through plains and then coming across the rocks jetting up. It is very much like that. There are no hills but just flat land and then the rocks seem to appear out of nowhere. I agree with the assessment that even without monasteries this area would attract tourists for its natural wonders.

On our way to Kastraki, we drive through Kalambaka which we find to be quite busy and loud. It is the alternative to Kastraki which we are glad we forego. Kastraki is tiny and we find it charming. We check into Hotel Doupiani House which again we chose for the balcony views but this time we are not disappointed. They are as incredible as the photos on their website. The hotel is a bit more upscale than other places we stayed and has a bit more professional rather than family feel. The staff is all really helpful but they work in shifts and we don’t see the same people every day as we did in Crete. We find that we do miss that familiarity. The hotel is above the town which means a walk for everything. After resting a bit, we walk down to the town square to meet our guide for Visit Meteora’s Cave Tour.

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For our anniversary, our children gave us tickets to this tour and to the hiking one we take the next morning. We turn out to be the only people on the Cave Tour which our guide says is not unusual. We had debated wearing more clothes because caves are usually quite chilly but fortunately did not. It is in the 90s. The description says 5 Kilometers of walking. Well, the hike is to caves but not really much in the caves so no need for warmer clothes. It also is uphill which I had not expected. We did wear hiking shoes but had not brought our poles. Our guide had poles and gave us each one as we came down from the first cave which helped a lot. At one point, we climbed up a ladder to a rock where we could see for miles. My husband who is not fond of heights did not like coming down the ladder very much! We really liked our guide who was probably about 30 but accommodated our slower pace (we are in early 60s) without being condescending at all. In addition to learning about the history of the area, he told us about the plants. This thrilled my husband who is a horticulturalist. The hike was more rigorous than I had expected but we really enjoyed the experience. We ended back on the square and while I had thought we would go back to our hotel and clean up before dinner, I had no desire to hike up another hill without some refreshment. So we had dinner outside at the first restaurant we spotted which actually worked out quite well. The food in Greece is almost universally good.
Day 15
Today after a very nice breakfast outside overlooking the rocks we are picked up by a van for our Visit Meteora hiking tour. The guide is the same as we had last night. There are two other couples. One about our age from London who do a lot of walking and a 30ish couple from town on the sea south of Athens. Our guide says he does not have many Greeks on his tours-that Greeks are traditionally not walkers. Those that do hike like things more extreme than this tour. The woman in particular struggles on parts of the hike even though it is not as difficult as what we did the night before. She tells me that Greeks walk to cafes where they sit!
We start out at 8:30 am but it is already warm. The forecast is for 97. I wear very lightweight denim shorts and a navy tank top. We are to visit a monastery so I have in my backpack a very thin navy “sweater” (not made of sweater material) and a wrap around black skirt (Rip Hawaii) It works very well. Many women I see at the monastery with skirts over their regular clothes. A few seem to slip by, especially since by the time we arrived at a Great Meteoro monastery, there were long lines. Men seemed to be able to enter with long shorts. My husband wore lightweight hiking pants.
The tour was interesting and fun and we liked seeing the monasteries from different angles. The only disadvantage is that you spend the early morning hours hiking when there are less crowds at the monastery. There is a food truck on the road in front of the monastery and we buy cokes and spanakopita before trying to go in. Unfortunately, the lines multiplied while we ate. Still, once we were in, it wasn’t that crowded. The views are unbelievable and it is amazing to consider how it was built. All of the monasteries have chapels you can visit that are frescoed from top to bottom. They have somewhat different character and everybody has their favorites. I liked Grand Meteora a lot but perhaps that is because it was the first we saw.

After we meet up with the rest of our group, we have to decide what to do. According to our guide there are two more monasteries we could hike to or we could walk down with the group and be returned to our hotel by the mini bus. We are broiling in the heat and decide to return and venture out with our car later in the day.

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We visit the two furthest from us because one is closed on Mondays. Holy Trinity is where a James Bond movie is filmed but it is our least favorite one. It is a lot of steps but the reward is not great: the monastery seems very new and more like a church parish center. It is spacious so I can see how a movie could be filmed here. The second St Stephen’s is actually a nunnery now with 30 sisters. Unlike the monks who hire people to man the ticket booth and gift store, the nuns sell tickets, work in the gift shop and wander around to answer questions. I saw one carrying a huge container of food and some people in street clothes following. There were lots of hugs so I presume it was some sort of family gathering.

Afterwards, we return to town and wander around. We end up at Taverna Bakaliarakia for dinner because we like their outdoor patio overlooking the surrounding area. We arrive at probably 6:30 and it really is too early to eat outdoors as it is still pretty warm which does detract from our enjoyment. The only advantage of our early dinner is that we are able to drive back to the rocks above time in time for the sunset. There is a rock where is renowned for its sunset views and four years ago when our son was here he took beautiful pictures from here. Our worry is that we won’t find a place to park but decide to go anyway. There is parking along the road so we join the crowd on the rock. My husband takes some pictures earlier than I thought optimal but it turns out he was right. They were beautiful. I offer to take pictures of a couple who were trying to take a selfie and they are very appreciative. We stay for awhile and enjoy but decide to depart before the sky is completely dark to facilitate an easier return to town.

Day 16

We head over to Kalambaka to take care of our covid tests. We brought home tests and had both tested negative the night before and, as expected, we tested negative again. (Our hearts did skip, however, a beat when the pharmacists asked us to step into his office which must be standard protocol.) Afterwards, we went back to Kastraki and visited two more monasteries. We especially enjoyed St. Nikolaos because it was off the bus tour trail. It was quiet and the frescos looked old not having been retouched like many others. The only one we did not see was Roussanou because by that point we felt like we were done and wanted to get on the road back towards Athens. We were to stay at Avra Hotel in Rafina which is about 30 minutes to the airport. They offer a shuttle service but we kept our car and returned it at the airport the next day, since there would be no additional charge.

We went on the toll road as soon as we could in our trip. It cost us money but saved time (1 hour and 15 minutes according to Goggle maps) and aggravation. We appreciated the wide open four lane road with little traffic until we were close to Athens. My husband was doing all the driving again after his navigating took us the wrong way and he said he would rather drive than deal with goggle maps. We stopped once along the way in a little town where we managed to get lunch despite the language barrier. No one spoke English there.

We booked Avra on booking.com where the photo was of the ocean view but we ended up with a view of the bank building. I went back down to the lobby to discuss and was told I had a view, it just was a city view not an ocean view. The man told me the problem was booking.com. I was not impressed but there was nothing I could do. I am guessing they give the nicer rooms to those who book directly with them. I had relied on booking.com for ease since we had so many hotels (10 I think).

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We had our last dinner on the promenade facing the sea where the ferries were docked. None of the restaurants had many people and some of them were very aggressive about getting our business. We went to one where we liked the style of the woman. We had some lackluster tomato and rice dish and then the best souvlaki I have ever had. We moved inside at their insistence and just as we did the rain drops turned to driving rain. We watched the people who had disembarked from the ferries walking in the rain with suitcases. It did not look pleasant. We waited until the rain was almost finished and made our way back to our hotel for a final pack.

Day 17

Goggle maps took us a very pleasant way to the airport where we returned our car. In Greece, the cars do not necessarily start out full and you are to return them as you rented them. We returned the car half full which was what the car in Crete had been. Ours had actually been 3/4 full and our mistake cost us 40 Euros.
We were early at the airport and, of course, that meant our flight was late. We left about one and half hours late, 40 minutes of which was made up in the sky. We arrived at Dulles airport with a pretty tight connection. We zoomed through with Global Entry in about three minutes but then had to wait for our bags. We usually do not check but had taken hiking poles which required that we do so. My bag came relatively quickly but soon there were no bags and a crowd of people without bags. People started panicking. It was not pretty. It was hard to imagine we were going to miss our flight because of our bags. Some people left without bags. About 15 minutes later, the bags started reappearing again. Once my husband’s bag arrived, we hurried to where we rechecked them (quite a breeze at Dulles actually compared to JFK which is only other place I have rechecked). We then ran to our gate only to find no one waiting to board. Fortunately, we were allowed on the plane (there were a few people still on tarmac) and the good thing was like on our long flight back to the U.S., we again got an empty middle seat. While about 75% of people on the plane from Athens wore masks, only about 25% did on our domestic flight.

It was a great trip. It has been fun to relive it with you. I got lots of help from people on this board while planning and hopefully this will help others as well as allow those who have already visited to relive their experiences.

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What a great trip you had! And what a wonderfully descriptive report. We are staying at the Avra too, reserved through Booking.com. It will be interesting to see what our view is!

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Oh, Beth….. you are just reconfirming my desire to return to Meteora next summer….. And no, I did NOT drive by myself last year - I had a navigator. Her jobs were calmness and tolls - mine was driving with the help of Google. Lol. But having done it, I am not at all afraid to head off on my own next year.

Another great trip, right?!

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Charlene-well, you have been warned about the view. I really had expected an ocean view and was disappointed. That said, I think it is still probably the best alternative before a flight out. The room was pretty small but well designed and there was a nice breakfast. And I hate staying at airport hotels.

TexasTravelmom-I am impressed to see you are planning already for next summer! I am sure you will do well navigating on your own. You can pay the tolls with a tap on a credit card so that is easy. And if you don’t want to follow goggle maps all over the place, my map of Greece had a more direct route that was simple to follow. It did go through more towns which goggle map avoided.