Thank you Crete, thank you for your wonderful mountains and your beautiful beaches. I will return, I promise.
- I would rent a car if I were you, the island is fairly small and the roads are manageable to navigate.. there also isn't much of a public transportation option. If you want to see the island's best, rent a car.
- And when you do rent a car, don't rent from an American company (Hertz, etc), they're WAY expensive. Find a local place, in the airport main lobby, and rent from there. It will be significantly cheaper and your car will be just as nice.
- If you're going to drive slowly, do so on the shoulder of the road. You know, that place on the road that you're supposed to avoid in America? The one where you pull over when you're caught speeding? Yeah, drive on that. It's basically another lane here in Crete.
- The island isn't too big and nothing seems too far, distance wise, but don't forget the entire island is cut in half west to east by huge mountains. Get ready for some hairpin turns and ear-popping altitudes.
- It's windy all the time.
- Eat fish, but make sure you know what fish you're ordering. You may end up with a plate full of tiny fish that you have to rip the heads off of.
- Yes, there really is only one main highway on the entire island.
- You have to work to see Crete's most prized possessions. There are no easy ways to see Samaria Gorge or their world class beaches. It will involve dangerous drives and exhausting hikes, both of which are completely worth it.
- Don't order dessert, you get one for free at the end of the meal anyways, complete with a drink called ouzo. Don't drink the ouzo unless you're ready to grow hair on your chest.
- The tourists flock from April-September and when you go outside of these times, you will likely be the only person in any establishment you go into.
For our last day on the sunny island of Crete, we decided to make the trek back out to Balos beach, this time actually seeing the beach! We packed up our bag with snacks and towels and hit the road! Like I said a few days ago, the drive there was pretty scary! It was a rough gravel road and there were some large rocks in the middle of the road that you had to swerve around.
I was a little disappointed when we started on the rocky road and saw a couple other cars.. the other day when we made the drive there was no one there. I guess we went on March 31 and the tourists don't start coming until April.. apparently they come right on time around here! On the way there we passed a little arrow that said 'cave' and there was a tiny little path leading down the mountain. Being the crazies that we are.. we parked the car and headed down the path. It took us about 20 minutes to hike there.. now, in America.. this path would have been groomed, maybe even paved(!) but here in Crete it was filled with thorny bushes and big rocks. We weren't complaining though, I would much rather it be this way than all messed up by us humans. We reached the cave and it wasn't much of a cave at all, more like a little cove. It still was beautiful! BHW had researched the night before about Balos and had read something about a nearby cave and that a bunch of pirates had killed each other there in the 1800's. Don't worry, we didn't find any human remains, or wood peg legs.
The hike back up the mountain was obviously a little more difficult and when we reached the top we celebrated over a Lemon Fanta. YUM! We were now onto another hike down another mountain, this time the mountain would take us all the way down to Balos Beach! The hike was nice, this was a little more groomed than the path to the cave. We reached the ridge and held our breath a little because of the sight we were about to see. Once we peeked over the ridge we were in for a treat! It was B-E-A-yooteeful! The water was so blue it looked fake and the sand was perfect (it was even pink in some places!)! There weren't too many people around either so that was nice. We didn't have the place to ourselves but just about, we set up camp far away from everyone else. We spent the rest of the day at the beach, napping, searching for shells, reading, and relaxing. It was so picturesque! After being in the sun for awhile we came back home to pack and get ready for our long day tomorrow.
We also ate dinner right next to our villa at a little taverna. We were, once again, the only people eating there, but we've gotten used to that. Tomorrow our flight leaves at 6:30AM and we land in Turkey. From there we will spend the day doing the things we missed the first time around, and trying to stay awake until our flight at 5:55AM the following day (Saturday). It will be a very long day but hopefully fun!
Today was a day we planned to relax at the beach. There are two beaches we wanted to visit, Balos and Falassarna. Balos is supposed to be one of the best in the world (35 out of 100 according to CNN), so we decided to go to Falssarna first and Balos tomorrow! Before we left we made sure we had some sort of directions and we also looked up the article about the top beaches in the world, and Falassarna is on there too! It’s 100 out of 100 but, heck, at least it’s on the list! We were on our way to Falassarna when BHW says ‘Oh great, I left the beer in the freezer! I was supposed to pack it for the beach trip!’ I said ‘Well, let’s just go back and get it, it’s not like you have a book or anything to do while we lay on the beach so you better get the beer.’ His reply was, ‘My book IS the beer!’. We turned around and grabbed the goods. Thankfully Falassarna isn’t too far away so it was a quick trip back.
Now, when you go to a beach rated by CNN as a top beach in the world.. what do you think of? White sand, mind bogglingly blue waters, fancy hotels lining the beach, restaurants, umbrellas, lounge chairs galore, oh.. and hundreds of people… right? Well, after twisting and turning down the mountain to the beach we arrived, and it was just beach. Just the most beautiful beach. There were no umbrellas, no hotels, no restaurants, not even a SINGLE other person. One of the things that I appreciate about Crete is the fact that no matter how ‘popular’ a place becomes, it does not become any more modern, any more luxurious, any more anything.. they leave the place as it is because of what it is. Take the Samaria gorge for example.. remember the post I was talking about where I said it was the second most visited place in all of Crete? Well, you had to drive for 2 hours through mountains, and I mean MOUNTAINS, to get there. There was no pretty little straight road filled with signs leading you there, there were no restaurants or pit stops where you could go and take a break from the bus/car/van.. it was a ridiculous drive. We didn’t pass a single car for 30 minutes at a time. We were literally in the middle of nowhere. This beach was exactly the same, on the way down to the beach you want to know what we passed? Shacks, and row after row after row of massive greenhouses. Essentially, we were driving through farm country to get to the beach. Cretans don’t set aside their priorities or their livelihood to cater to tourists, they let you experience the completely raw beauty of their island and are proud of it.
While on the beach we walked around and looked for seashells. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sand like the sand I saw at Falsarnas. It wasn’t tiny grains all white, it really was little bits of shell! You could see all the different colors when looking closely. BHW didn’t have a book so he drank beer and made up a game that he could play by himself. He does that sometimes. I laid around soaking up sun and reading my book. It wasn’t the most ‘perfect’ beach weather.. it didn’t even get up to 70 degrees and it was super windy, but when the sun popped out behind the clouds it felt glorious! We appreciated being the only people on the beach, I can’t imagine the place in August when it’s swarming with tourists, ew.
After we got enough sun for the day we wanted to head back to a little taverna and grab some lunch, we passed one on the way to the beach and it looked fun. We tried to go out a different way than the way we came, why you ask? I do not know.. we’re just like that I guess. We ended up not finding a way out but finding something much better instead. I asked BHW to park the car because there was a great opportunity for a picture of the rocky coast with the water crashing against it. When we got out BHW noticed there was a tiny path that led to the coast. Of course we walked down it! The path ended at a million razor sharp rocks, so we decided to climb on those and get closer to the water, smart move right? It was pretty hard to climb around on them, even putting your hand on one for balance too hard would have resulted in cuts. There was a lot of arm flapping and wobbling, trying to balance without touching the rocks/boulders or falling in between them, that would have hurt! As we got closer to the water the view just kept getting better! Something caught BHW’s eye on our left and he headed in that direction. I stayed put because I was trying to climb, balance, and not touch the sharp rocks all while holding my camera in one hand. All he said was ‘Oh my god.’ and I forgot how dangerous it was and was on my way over towards him. When I got to the cave I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was seriously out of a National Geographic! The cave had water from the sea in it.. not sure how deep.. the water is so clear you can never tell, it seemed more than 5 feet though. It was GORGEOUS! There was a rock in the cave and BHW climbed into the cave and sat on the rock so I could get his picture. Neither of us could stop smiling, it was just so amazing! Who knows if anyone has ever stepped foot in that cave, we could have very well been the first!
After that accidentally amazing cave we stumbled upon our drive back to the villa was uneventful, except that we saw a dead dog on the road. I was literally just about to tell you all how there are so many unleashed and uncaged/fenced animals that I’m surprised they don’t get hit all the time. I was so sad to see the dog.. until we got up to it and started to drive around it.. and it got up. It was just sleeping, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MAIN ROAD! Why does the dog cross the road? He doesn’t he stops and takes a nap in the middle of it. That was my funny joke for the day. When we got home we realized how sunburnt we were. I did a really good job of applying sunscreen, only missing a few places.. which got roasted. I guess I learned that sunscreen works.. but only where you put it. So that was a bonus. BHW failed to put any sunscreen on and his back looks like a tomato. We made fun of each other for a while and then headed out for dinner.
On our way to dinner we passed a church built into a cliff and a small cave. We parked the car and looked in the church, it was dimly lit and there were lots of pictures of Jesus and some unlit candles. The cave next door had some scenes from the bible painted on wood and propped up. We’ve seen a million tiny churches built into mountains, all by themselves, on the side of the road, everywhere.. we just haven’t gone into any until tonight. It was a cool experience! For dinner we stopped at a little place next to the bay. I ordered the fresh fish for the day with a salad. I didn’t know what the fish was but told myself that anything fried had to be good! When the woman put my plate in front of me I almost freaked out on the spot. Instead of one nice fried fish fillet.. it was about 20 tiny fish the size of chicken wings.. complete with their HEADS! BHW got swordfish, which I’ve had before, and offered to trade. I tried his and didn’t like it so I was stuck with this pile of fish. He tried one and said it was delicious, he showed me that ‘all I had to do’ was rip the head and tail off, and pick the spine out, then I was good to go! Thats ALL I had to do?! Well, ladies and gentleman, I DID do it.. and the fish was scrumptious. I won’t say that I enjoyed ripping it apart before I ate it, but I couldn’t just not eat it!
After the dinner I just had to go through, I felt that I deserved a treat, so we went out for gelato. We drove into town and found a place that had some. After we paid for our gelato the lady said, you are the first customer all day. It was 9PM! Everywhere we have been, besides the grocery store, we have been the only people in there. I guess it really is low season here in Crete, not even the locals are out!
Tomorrow we make the treacherous drive up the mountain again and the steep 30 minute hike down to Balos Lagoon. And this time we’re going to actually SEE the beach! It was rated #35 out of 100 of the best beaches in the world. I can’t wait!
Today our plan was to hike the Samaria Gorge, Crete's second most visited sight. Unfortunately, it was closed until May so we had to find another plan. We still wanted to do some hiking and thought it would be fun to find another gorge. We found Agia Irini, which is nearby the Samaria Gorge, and it's open all year. Our villa is located on the northern coast of Crete and the gorge is located near the southern coast, meaning we had to drive width of the island, which was only about 30 miles. What we didn't think about was that we were driving the width of the most mountain filled island ever. The Googlemaps we searched before leaving said it would take us 1.5 hours. Not too shabby, we got this.
We packed our things and armed ourselves with a map and a general idea of where in the world we were going. THREE HOURS LATER, we arrived at our location. Now let me tell you a little bit about what happened during those 3 hours. First off, we got lost more times than I can count. We started off taking the wrong 'National Road'. There is an old national road and a new national road, we were supposed to take the new one but ended up on the old one. It wasn't too bad of a mistake, they were both generally doing the same exact thing.. the old national road was just a bit more.. hair-pin turn filled.
Our drive did not get any less mountain-y for the next couple hours. The views were astounding and we were soaking it all in! I've never seen so many olive trees, goats, or sheep in my entire life. At one point we were going through a small village and there was a herd of sheep right in the road, at least a hundred! We slowly kept moving forward while they ran around/away from us BAAAA'ing the whole way with their little bells around their necks clanking.
We stopped and asked for directions more than a few times, but it was worth it! While we were at one of our lost points, we stumbled upon this older man and his wife. The conversation went a little something like this.. BHW: 'Hello. Do you speak english? We are lost..' Old Man: 'Where you go?' BHW: (points to map) Old Man: 'Ah, ok.. first you want to ...--' His wife: (interrupting and pulling something from the back of the car) 'Give them cake!' BHW finished his conversation with the man and we got in the car, thanking them both for their kindness. And we were back on our way, with directions, and cake. It was homemade lemon poppy seed, and it was fabulous.
Our drive lasted another hour or so after this conversation until we reached the village of Sougia. This is where the gorge we wanted to hike ended, we decided to park the car there and hike for a bit. The beach area at Sougia is pristine! After our unexpectedly long drive we sat on the beach and ate our lunch we packed before the hike. The weather was sunny and warm with a slight breeze. When we were ready to hike we asked a man at a local taverna where the the gorge came out at so we knew where to start our hike. He informed us that we actually should drive back out about 1.5 miles and park there, that's where the end actually is. We hopped back into the car and found the correct location.
The gorge was beautiful and I'm fairly certain we were the only people hiking through it at that moment. The cliffs on either side of us stretched towards the sky, keeping us in the shade for most of the hike. We hiked for about 1.5 miles and then turned back, we didn't want to drive through the mountains in the dark. The drive home was MUCH faster than the drive there. We were a little more familiar with the roads, and most of it was downhill.
Once home we ate at a hotel right near our villa. We were the only people in there for the majority of the time and I'm fairly certain we're the only Americans in all of Western Crete. There have been a few other 'tourists' but none of them have been American yet.
Our morning started out with 4 hours of sleep and rushing to the Metro Station. Getting places seems to be the most stressful part of the trip. We got to the airport and ended up having to run to our gate to catch the bus to our plane (the bus drives you right up to the plane where you walk up the stairs all 'private jet style'). The flight for Crete left around 9:15AM and we arrived around 45 minutes later.
At the airport we rented a car and were on our way. It was the easiest transition to a new location so far! The place we rented the car from provided us with a map of Crete that was as big as the island itself, no way were we getting lost! Of course, as soon as we pulled out of the airport the gas light comes on, so we drove hoping to find a nearby station. BHW found a gas station and a man came out and asked BHW what he wanted, he said to fill it up, so the man did, with PREMIUM gas. Man, they really know how to weasel you out of money around here! We have been taken advantage of far to many times on this trip.
Our host told us to stop in Chania to take a walk through Old Harbor. While driving there we were in awe of the different landscapes we could see all from our little red car. There were snow-capped mountains to our left, the sea to our right, and everywhere in between were olive trees! We arrived in Old Harbor in one piece, thankfully, and took a stroll around. The water is so clear, I still can't get over it!
After a walk around Old Harbor we got something to eat before we drove to the villa. The drive was fairly uneventful, the traffic was not bad at all and there is literally one road to take us across the island. The guy we rented the car from was telling us where to go and he pointed to the highway and said 'This road takes you to Kissamos.' and I said 'That's E-65, correct?' and his reply was, 'There's only one road, you can call it whatever you want.' One thing we did learn was that driving on the shoulder of the road is typical. If you're going to drive slowly, you just drive in the shoulder. It's basically another lane on the road. It's so funny because in the States we avoid that shoulder like the plague, it's filled with rumble strips!
About an hour later we got to our villa, in the middle of the tiniest town ever, it's more like a village. We had to stop and ask for directions twice but we found it! I keep saying we are in Kissamos (a small town) but we are technically in Kaliviani (an even smaller town). There are about 5 old ladies that live here, and a million goats. I'm pretty certain the entire island of Crete is covered in Olive trees, and goats. Our villa is built into a cave, which is awesome, to say the least. After we settled our things we took a short nap to make up for the lack of sleep from the previous night.
When we woke up we were ready to explore! We read about Balos Lagoon, one of the best beaches in the world, and it was right near our villa! There was, you guessed it, only one road that got us there so there was no way we were getting lost. What we weren't prepared for was the fact that the road wasn't paved.. and by not paved I don't mean gravel.. I mean rocky with a sprinkling of boulders while on the edge of a cliff. I thought I was going to have a heart attack more than once on the drive. We passed a few million goats as we drove along the coast/cliff. We knew it was going to get dark so we were a little nervous about driving all the way there and having to possibly drive back in the dark. There were 2 cars on the entire trip and we drove for around an hour (roundtrip). We did finally find the beach.. well.. we found the entrance to it. To get down to the beach you had to hike for 20 minutes down the cliff. The view of the beach was blocked and we decided not to hike down there and save it for another day when planned to spend the whole day there.
Once we made the dangerous drive back we passed through our tiny town and went up to Kissamos so we could grab some groceries, mainly breakfast stuff and snacks. We planned to visit Samaria Gorge tomorrow morning but apparently it's closed until May. I'm still going to call them in the morning just to be sure, but if not, we have a back-up gorge to hike instead!
As our time in Athens came to an end, I decided to write a little post about some things I learned, in particular, while in Athens.
- There is more to the City than The Acropolis. We planned a lot of our trip using Trip Advisor Itineraries. Don't forget to check out Vouligmeni Lake and Mount Lycabettus.
- The Parthenon and The Acropolis are two totally different things. Saying they're the same is like saying the Empire State Building is New York City.
- And while we're on the topic of The Acropolis, don't wear flip flops. You'll slip and slide everywhere and look dumb, you also can't go barefoot, just trust me.
- Nothing is too far via the subway.
- If you're going to get sick, don't do it on a Saturday, most pharmacies are closed.
- People are nice and proud of their city. They want you to see the best of it and will give the tips to do so.
- The water is hard, don't forget lotion.
- If someone gives you a rose and says it's free, it's not.
- The place is riddled with graffiti, but not with trash.
At our wedding we had the guests vote on where they thought we should go for our honeymoon, and they voted Greece! So, 11 months later, we are finally making the journey! Turkey and Greece, here we come!