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Two week trip to Crete and Greek mainland

Thank you to everyone on this forum who helped with trip planning! Our trip was 16 days starting June 1. The weather was mid 80's and low 90's and sunny every day except one. We encountered high wind in Crete for 2-3 days, which modified our sailing plans; the skipper said 40 knot winds in June are rare.

Here is our basic itinerary:

Day 1, most of Day 2: Travel Columbus, OH/ Philadelphia/ Athens/ Heraklio, Crete, visit Koules Fortress
Day 3: Heraklio National Museum, Knossos, walk the city walls
Day 4: rent car, south to Phaestos, Agia Triada, Museum of Ethnology in Vori, overnight in Kamilari
Day 5: Amari valley church frescoes, Moni Arkadiou, Eleftherna museum, overnight in Argyroupoli
Day 6: Imbros Gorge, overnight in Loutro
Day 7: Botanical Park and Gardens near Fournes, check out Samaria gorge, overnight in Paleohora
Day 8: Elafonisi, Elos for lunch, turn in car at airport, overnight in Chania
Day 9: Day sail from Chania harbor with Orizon Sailing, overnight in Chania
Day 10: Chania museums, overnight on ferry to Pireaus
Day 11: Pick up rental car in Athens suburb, Mycenae, Palamidi fortress, overnight in Nafplio
Day 12: Sunken City kayak trip with Pan Expeditions, Epidaurus, overnight in Athens
Day 13: National Museum of Archeology, Acropolis, overnight in Athens
Day 14: Greek Agora, Acropolis Museum, overnight in Athens
Day 15: Cycladic art museum, Byzantine museum, Dora Stratou dance theater, overnight in Athens
Day 16, Day 17: travel home

What I would change from the above:
- Argyroupolis, Crete - in early June there are no evening hours for the restaurants around the waterfalls; the town itself is not interesting otherwise.
- Exchange our Paleohora time for either Sougia or another day in Loutro. Paleohora seems like a Cretan Myrtle Beach, which is not the type of experience we’re after.
- I didn’t account for the 0900 opening for the car rental office in Athens, and we blew a few hours transitioning from the ferry to the rental car.
- The first half of the trip had a lot of driving; my husband really enjoyed seeing so much of Crete; I would have preferred less time in the car.
- Returning the rental car to an Athens suburb was an exercise in frustration due to the traffic even in the middle of the evening and the address numbering system. We probably should have returned to the airport instead as it would have been simpler.
- If you get a new passport, you need to login to the Global Entry site to link your new passport number to your GE number. This doesn’t occur automatically.

What seemed just right:
- Choosing Crete as our island hop. It’s beautiful. Several Greeks that we talked with said, ‘Good for you going to Crete, it’s my favorite’.
- Chania, Crete is a fantastic place to spend several days. Great restaurants and some night life, interesting little museums, beautiful setting.
- Seeing the southern part of Crete, which has an entirely different character than the North coast.
- Taking a ‘short cut across the mountains’ to see the less touristic side of Crete. Husband loved the drive; I was a bit stressed by the narrow roads, height with no guardrails and rock hazards.

- Scheduling site guides at Knossos and Mycenae as sometimes it’s difficult to tell what you’re looking at. It’s also a great opportunity to spend time with someone who’s local.
- There was a taxi strike the first 2 days we were in Athens, so we purchased Grey Line tickets to get around the city core and save our legs for the museums.
- Global Entry got us through the Philly airport faster, after our layover was cut short by an air traffic control strike in France (air space).
- Three days is Athens is plenty of time, even for someone who loves antiquities. I agree with comments on this forum that it’s better to get acclimated to Greece somewhere else first.
- Build variety into the schedule by having active outdoor days and museum days, and both city and countryside.

Posted by
394 posts

Places where I felt totally happy:
Taverna just down the street from Tamam in Chania, the one that’s open to the sky, listening to acoustic traditional music
Botanical Park and Gardens, near Fournes, Crete- organic, grown-onsite food in a memorably beautiful setting
Loutro, Crete – that middle of nowhere feeling, when it’s the perfect nowhere
Dora Stratou dance theater in Athens – Greek trad music and dance plugs you into the character of Greece. Very professional and well done.

Favorite meals:
Alekos Taverna, Vori, Crete
Taverna Loggia, Kamilari, Crete
Botanical Park and Gardens, near Fournes, Crete
Tamam, Chania, Crete
Well of the Turk, Chania, Crete
Manh Manh, Athens

Café in the Acropolis Museum, for the view and the harpist(!)

Vendors/Guides:
Pan Expeditions, kayaking in the Nafplio area
Orizon Sailing, Chania
Knossos, Lena booked through Niki Vlachou at Olympic Tours
Mycenae, Katerina booked through Olympic Tours
Welcome Pickups, Athens On time, efficient booking and communications, friendly drivers

Hotels I would consider using again:
Lato in Iraklio, fantastic central location, extensive breakfast buffet
Sifis in Loutro, basic & retro but a great view of the harbor and next to the ferry dock
Cretan Renaissance in Chania, a beautiful splurge, ideally located, family-owned personal touches

Philippos in Athens, business style, incredibly helpful front desk staff, fantastic location a couple of blocks from Acropolis and Acropolis museum

Observations:
In many cities the sidewalks are marble, and at some historic sites the rough stone has been polished smooth by visitors feet. The surfaces were somewhat slick even when dry. The guide at Mycenae told us when it rains they sometimes have to hold hands. Pack shoes that have some grip.
The Imbros gorge path in Crete is 95% stone of various sizes from small to medium. There is no bouldering but rocks are large enough that you have to pick around them. The rockiness changes what is a very easy into more effort. It's not a difficult walk but not like strolling through the park either. A lot of people did the walk in trainers like we did, that's fine. Boots would work better, but then I wouldn't bring boots on a trip for just this hike.

Food and drink are inexpensive. Food portions, in Crete in particular, are huge. We started splitting entrees and sides. Restaurant prices in Athens reminded us of similar quality in Columbus. In Kamilari, a small town, we had a very good meal for two including wine, main course w/multiple sides and dessert for 21E.

Sit down meals almost always include gratis alcohol and a sweet such as fruit or cake at the end of the meal. If you’re in a hurry, getting street food, a premade sandwich from a taverna display case, or a picnic from the mini market is better than trying to rush the restaurant through serving you.
Taxis are inexpensive.

Stick to the red and yellow roads on the map in Crete, unless you don’t mind twisty, narrow lanes, averaging 35 MPH and stops for goats, sheep, dogs and chickens in the road : )
We used both Here and Google Maps for navigation. When one navigation approach failed we tried the other. We lost network access a few times, so was good to have offline maps.
Driving in the Pelopponese was pretty easy. Driving in Athens city is best avoided; the highways are good.
Many times we were told the credit card reader wasn’t working; do we have cash(?) Guides and vendors always wanted cash. We heard many tough stories about the continuing economic hardship so this was all understandable to us.
It really struck us how Greece bridges the West and the East. We began to understand how millennia of interaction with the Near East, war and conquest have resulted in a melting of cultures. The multi-layered heritage of Greece is mind blowing. We will savor this trip. Greece is beautiful and fascinating and provided great hospitality to us.

Posted by
5849 posts

So happy to read that you enjoyed Loutro. We spent two wonderful nights there at the insistance of our Greek friends.

Posted by
1551 posts

We are signed up for the RS Greek tour in 2019. So thank you for posting this as I am wanting to know all about Greece right now!

Posted by
4261 posts

What a great report. Well organized, very readable, useful for future travelers. We loved Crete though had only a few days at the end of our trip, and never got to Chania. Wish we'd had more time there.

I think you used your Athens time very well. We stayed in the Herodion, same ownership as the Philippos and same neighborhood, really liked it. I think we also had dinner in the Manh Manh restaurant, in that neighborhood up a steep flight of stairs -- ?

Next time try to get to Delphi and spend a night if you can, quite magical. Thanks for sharing your trip, brought back great memories for me!

Posted by
394 posts

Thank you for the kind comments, everyone. Our 'island hop' to Crete kind of took over the trip itinerary, since there were so many great things to see and do. This was to our delight since we loved Crete. We definitely left some major Greek sights on the table, such as Delphi, so we'll just have to return someday : )

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394 posts

We didn't experience a language barrier in Greece mainland or Crete. As in most countries we've visited, people who are frequently in contact with tourists are generally fluent, or at minimum at least conversational in the area in which they're working (e.g. restaurant terms). Besides Americans, there are a lot of English and German tourists and the default language after Greek is English. The Welcome Pickups drivers and most taxi drivers were very talkative and friendly. If the occasional taxi driver didn't understand us we showed him the Roman alphabet address on our phone and that was sufficient. We did encounter a few people who knew little to no English, but I can't remember ever being stymied by the language barrier. There was always someone else around who could help out. We fully intended to learn a little Greek before the trip but it turned out to be very little : ) People were very gracious when we tried these out: Kalimera (good morning), Kalispera (good afternoon/evening), Ya (hello one person), Yassas (hello multiple people), eff-khari-stoh (thank you). We wouldn't have even needed those words but it was nice to see a smile at our attempt. Almost all text on signs, in museums, etc. we encountered was in both Greek and English.

Posted by
679 posts

Enjoyed reading your trip report. We only got to spend 3 hours in Chania and would have spent several days. I agree it is a delightful place, full of great energy. Also went to Mahn Mahn. It ended up being one of our favorite dinners. We were there during a ferry strike in late May which was very interesting. I agree 3 days in Athens is enough time. We went to other island also (on a tour) but many were so crowded with cruise ships that we enjoyed Paros for it striking beauty and less travelers. Glad you enjoyed your trip, you had a great variety of things. Good job and great planning!

Posted by
394 posts

Thanks Nancy! Greece and Crete have so many amazing things to see and do that we were spoiled for choice. I was attracted to Crete but had 'planners block' at first. The Lonely Planet Crete (especially) and Rough Guides Crete really helped me out, as well as the people on this forum.

Posted by
2012 posts

Lia, loved your detailed trip report! Always appreciate honest appraisal's that include itinerary, what you would change & what seemed right. Your trip notes will be filed for a future trip to Crete! Fond memories of our Greece experience last year. Glad you had a wonderful journey!

Posted by
394 posts

Thank you. I think every trip we take is my new favorite. That may be because we've gotten better at planning over time, but honestly Greece and Crete are just spectacular. After we got back we both kept dreaming at night about the trip. It just permeated our thoughts.

Posted by
75 posts

We just returned from Greece - we stayed in Athens and Chania. My family fell in love with Chania and the people there. You are so right about the food portions there, HUGE! We felt guilty if any was left on a plate because the severs thought we didn't like the food.
My husband drove us around Crete two different days - I think I could spend 2 weeks just there.

We stayed in Athens for 6 days. The only reason it didn't feel too long is that my father in law still has a huge portion of his family still living there and we spent a lot of time with them. Otherwise I would agree that 3 days is plenty.

Loved reading someone else's perspective!

Posted by
394 posts

I'm glad you loved Crete! Chania just blew us away - it was so perfect. Just the right size for plenty of amusement, beautiful backdrop of the sea and mountains, great day trips, memorably good restaurants, friendly people. We're still listening to Greek music and making Greek salads and reminiscing a lot about our trip of six weeks ago.

Posted by
5849 posts

Our Greek friends say that the two most beautiful cities in Greece are Chania and Napflion and we agree. We spent two weeks in Chania and want to return.
It was fun reading your trip report and discovering another Loutro fan. When we were there it was all Belgians, Dutch and Greek visitors. Thanks for sharing your experience.