Crete

And so we arrive onto Crete, our last port of call for this trip. The high speed ferry from Santorini was rather characterless, you are given an assigned airline-style seat below deck where you’re forced to watch the Greek version of “Deal or No Deal” on TV. There’s no deck area to hang about on, it seems all the high speed ferries are the same. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s for safety concerns about too much stuff/people being blown overboard or something.

We came into the main town of Heraklion but went straight by bus to Rethymno, about 90 minutes west of there by bus, as it’s a much nicer place to stay, by all accounts. The bus journey was interesting, from the obligatory person a few rows back who was playing music on their phone speaker, to the small boy across the aisle who was making stupid noises the whole time, to the randy young French couple on the row behind him, who spent much of the journey giving each other a helping hand….

As usual we stayed in a beautiful apartment right in amongst the twisty alleyways of the Old Quarter which was oozing with character, but did prove to be a little noisy during the night due to music from some nearby bars, the odd passing drinking reveller, and motorbikes, who seem to think it’s necessary to use their horns in the middle of the night on these otherwise trafficless alleys. Breakfast on our balcony:

An old lady opens up her shop just across the alley from us. I always find it fascinating to watch them set up at the start of the day, and pack up late at night, following a well-rehearsed routine which takes a good 20 minutes or half an hour.

Due to time constraints. we imposed a seriously early start on ourselves the first morning, to catch an excursion bus at 6.30am to take us to the south west of the island to hike the Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe at 12.5Km or so. You start in the village of Omolos, hike downhill all the way through the gorge, passing the abandoned village of Samaria halfway along, then end up at the coastal village of Agia Roumeli which is only accessible by boat. From there you take a ferry for an hour eastwards along the south coast to Hora Sfakion, where you hope that the excursion bus is waiting for you to take you back.

The German tour guide was really laying it on thick about the risks and dangers that are present in the gorge, but in reality it turned out to be a very straightforward hike, anyone who’s remotely into walking isn’t going to have any problem at all. Delicious fresh drinking water is piped into fountains at very regular intervals, so there’s not even the need to carry large quantites of water.

The earlier part of the hike is steeper as you descend down from around 1200m elevation at the start, down into the gorge proper

An inovative solution to stopping this massive boulder rolling down onto the path

This is a rare kri-kri goat with her two kids, apparently they’ve got used to eating cardboard ham and cheese sandwiches, which are served at massively over-inflated prices in Omolos.

The second half of the hike, after you’ve passed the village of Samaria, is more dramatic

I’m not sure if dehydration was setting in, but it looks like there’s a gigantic lizard made of stone, centre left of the picture

We craftily avoided the taverna that the guide said we should meet in at the end of the hike, and instead had some wonderful food a little way up the road, including a Cretan salad, which has a lot of egg and croutons in it, as well as the usual components of a Greek salad such as feta, olives and tomato. Greece is certainly a good place for lovers of 5-a-day! Next to that we had a mousaka, just to ensure a suitable level of stodge intake. 

The journey back was smooth, albeit stinking of feet somewhat.. Next day was spent recouperating in Rethymno, this is an early morning scene in an alley close to our accomodation

Round the corner is the Rimondi Fountain, a Coronthian affair dating back to 1626

Also in town is the Fortezza, a fortress from the 1570s and in really quite good nick

It covers a large area, and in the middle are various odd buildings, including this mosque, with the stump of its demolished minaret on the left there

The rest of the day was given over to some lazy street walking and eating. This is the remains of another Cretan salad, the kitchen is in the window

A typical street dining scene

Cats are everywhere

This setup is in the corner of a local supermarket. I’m not sure what you’re meant to decant the olive oil and raki into. Perhaps you’re meant to lie on your back on the floor, with your mouth open

We took a drive out to the Minoan place of Knossos, dating back to 1900BC. The place has been restored in a most bizarre fashion by a certain Brit called Arthur Evans between about 1900-1930 (AD!) He’s used his imagination largely, to guess at what different parts of the palace would’ve been used for, and rebuilt them in concrete to reflect how he thinks they would’ve looked. Since then, a lot of his assumptions have been proved wrong, and he’s even build chambers for the king and queen, even though there’s no firm evidence that the monarchy ever even resided here.

The end result is that you feel more like you’re in Portmerion in Wales, rather than some important archaelogical site

For out final night we moved west to Hania for one night only. This was mainly so we could be closer to the airport to allow for more of a lie-in, but also to try and get a quieter night (which we did). Even though we only had the evening to wander around and get some food, Hania looks beautiful! It has a Venetian quarter, similar to Rethymno, set around a beautiful and historic harbour. It’s bigger than Rethymno too, so sports a much broader array of shops and eateries. If we come back to Crete again, and I hope we do, I would definitely spend more time here.

Greece has been an amazing experience, with outstanding food in almost all cases, and wonderful friendly and helpful people. I’m so glad we managed to get ourselves out and about around the country, rather than lie on a beach for two weeks 🙂 Highlights for me are Meteora and Santorini, and the accomodation on Paros

Posted from Chania, Crete Region, Greece.

Santorini

We’ve definitely gone up a few notches on the tourist scale with Santorini! The ferry, the Blue Star Delos, took us from Paros to Santorini with a quick stop at Naxos en route. This is Naxos, very likely we might have visited here instead of Paros, if Lisa had not already been here, many years ago 

Although the ferry ostensibly looks like the sister ship of the Blue Star Paros which we used a few days previously from the mainland, she was much better appointed and comfortable with a bit of feng shui going on. The water is shallow in places, you can see her churning up the silt as we came in and out of Naxos

And so we arrived on Santorini to find another lovely barrel vaulted room awaiting awaiting us, with two of the most helpful hosts you could find. It’s in the main town of Fira, perched on what was the rim of a now submerged, massive volcano caldera. 

Santorini is famous for its sunsets, so for the first night we duly forked out for cocktails and watch the show

Next day we equipped ourselves with a new set of wheels, this time going upmarket a bit to a new 300cc model, which was nice and quiet and felt more like driving a car, compared with the 200cc cement mixer version that we had on Paros. We’re in front of a winery here, they grow the vines low to the ground to lessen the impact of the winds, which can be a problem on the islands here

Where there’s a vineyard there is wine, which just must be tasted. They weren’t bad, but nothing that would make your mouth water, as seems to be the way with the local juice 

Along the road were some slightly unusual scarecrows, though we were wishing they would scare off the flies which were quite abundant on the island, it seems 

This is a typical 5 star resort, this one is out of town along the south rim of the caldera. As you can see, very often the private pools are quite overlooked, we’re just pulled up on the side of a main road here. I’d be a bit disappointed if I’d splashed out top dollar and got something like this. You’d have to pick and choose your room carefully, which might be easier said than done, in advance. 

We toured most of the island, there’s a well known red beach on the south side, with nearby neighbours, one white and one black in colour. The sand is sharp so not the best for beach lounging compared with other islands, but instead we holed up in a lovely taverna behind the beach for a platter overflowing with sardines. Lisa got into trouble with the proprietor for not eating their heads! It’s nice to find these places that are a little out of the way as this island is busy! So much so that I really wouldn’t want to be here in July or August as it must be bedlam then. 

The very south west tip of the island

Black sand, blue sea, no people

We returned to Fira via the centre of the island, through the very quiet (as it was siesta time) village of Lefkes. My back seat driver got creative with her camerawork, though in truth I think it’s an accident 

On the last morning, before our sailing, we drove to the far north to the town of Oia, for a little poke about. The whole town was pretty much devasted by an earthquake in 1956, so has largely been rebuilt since then. The approach, which you must make on foot really, was underwhelming, on a broad avenue lined with expensive shops selling Jimmy Choo and the like, but if you persevere on right to the end, you are rewarded with some nice views. Apparently this area is the mecca for sunset watching, it must be torturous, as there’s very few public places you could actually stand and watch it 

Santorini is indeed spectacular, as long as you can cope with the amount of people, and the air of glamour about the whole place, both in the tourists and the locals. The prices are fairly high, but with a bit of patience and some recommendations we found some excellent cuisine, both in and out of town, for very reasonable costs. Now we’re off on our final ferry, a high speed affair which will take us onto Crete. 

Posted from Thera, Egeo, Greece.

Paros

The ferry to Paros took a little over 4 hours. It was a pretty big boat, that served beer and a fairly decent burger, so it was all good. What’s not been so good is the weather! Whilst London was basking in 31C or something yesterday, we were delighted with 23C, hardly any sun all day, quite a bit of wind and patches of rain! 

We’re staying in the main town of Parikia, in this wonderful oasis

Our first day, thanks to the disastrous weather, we took a bus up to near Naoussa, the second biggest town, in the north of the island. We asked the driver to let us off a bit early to have a walk along the coast for a while, trying to dodge the waves that were crashing over the road and the sporadic rain. You pass lots of cool things to see, the odd Acropolis here and there from the 13th century BC, donkeys to feed, and little churches like this that are everywhere 

We eventually made it to town, it’s very twee and known for its whitewashed alleyways and waterside eateries 

After chasing a bus down the road in a successful attempt to find out where it stopped and catch it before it left, we got back to Parikia and chilled out Matt and Lisa fashion in a typical bar in an alleyway. Fear not, I’m not drinking Heineken, rather it’s a Greek pilsner, and not a bad effort at one either. Lisa’s on the local wine – ’nuff said about that 

Fresh fish is in abundance, all over the island

Next day the balance of weather was almost restored, and the sun has been out all day, whilst still not super-hot in the mid 20’s that’s a nice temperature for mulling around in the sun. We hired a quad bike, “Death in Paradise” springs to mind here, and have been hammering the thing around both Paros itself, and we also took it on a short ferry ride to Antiparos, Paros’s little sister, where apparently the A-listers come to holiday at. We’re not sure if they mean Hollywood or Eastenders though. 

Antiparos has a cave which they bill as one of the most beautiful and spectacular in the world, which might be a stretch, but it’s impressive nonetheless and makes for a cool respite from the sun

We came back over to Paros and did our first beach, we found one sheltered from the wind which is still quite keen today. The water’s warm enough for a refreshing swim and beautifully crystal clear and blue. After that, we came back over the hills in the middle of the island, stopping off at the village of Lefkes, which was very sleepy because of the siesta, which even the cats were partaking of

Paros has been lovely for a couple of chill out days, even though the weather has not been the kindest at times. We’re just hanging on our balcony for a short while until it’s time to go for ferry to Santorini 


Posted from Paros, Egeo, Greece.

Mountains and Delphi

It’s been a couple of days of twisty mountain road driving. After another fabulous night in Meteora and the hint of some bad weather ahead, we were almost tempted to hole up there for one more night. Bravely though, we took the plunge and drove over the mountains to the ski town of Karpenissi. En route, I think I found the proof there is indeed snow in Greece, just a patch of it, not really visible,  to the right of the tree on the left. 

In the same spot is a shrine, of which you pass hundreds along the roadside, although you can’t see it, this one has a burning oil lamp in it and a picture of a young lad standing in what looks like the exact same spot. It seems like it’s common that if someone were involved in a near miss of some kind, either in that spot, or maybe it’s just a favourite spot of theirs, they build a shrine there to offer thanks for the save

Also along the road are hundreds of beehives, we got as close as we dare to get a snap, the bees were certainly being husy

Eventually we arrived at Karpenissi, nothing special in itself, but I always enjoy being off the tourist trail from time to time,  experiencing a bit of the real local life. We found ourselves a lovely cheap room, this is the view in the morning with ominous weather brewing as we were due to drive out through the valley that’s shrouded in cloud

We’d taken a drive down there the evening before, to the village of Megalo Horio, a few kilometres down the river. Fresh river fish is a big thing around these parts, today trout was the catch

Then we took a bit of a walk up a stream, health and safety don’t seem to have made it as far as here yet, the bridges were a little rickety to say the least 

Local honey on sale

Next day was another epic drive through the mountains, there was rain to begin with in the aforementioned valley, but it soon cleared up for another great drive, through a rather bizarre road cut into the side of a gorge 

We passed through sporadic tiny villages, including Prousos, with yet another monastery perched precariously on a ledge

Ending up in Delphi, the town itself nothing too inviting, where we experienced our first terrible dinner but still got a good deal on a nice hotel with a view. Next was the archaeolgoical site of Delphi itself, another set of ruins dating back to the 8th century BC, but most active between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. The site’s impressive 

Especially for me this stadium, old though it is, its current form is as recent as the 1st century AD

Lisa was impressed by the realife nature of some of the statues, though she got told off for posing next to them for a photo

Today we’ve gone back to Athens and returned the car without a scratch on it, and as I write we’re en route to the island of Paros. We’ve so far successfully dodged a load of thunderstorms and a promise of cooler weather, my UK friends will delight in knowing that the weather’s better there then here at the moment! 

Posted from Delphi, Thessalia Sterea Ellada, Greece.

Meteora 

Meteora is as far north as we’re going to go on this trip. It’s home to a whole area of rock pinnacles with ancient monasteries on top. A truly inspiring landscape. 

Happiness is when you go to pick up your rental Fiat Panda and they give you a Qashqai instead, parked outside our excellent guesthouse. 

The journey north from Athens was pretty smooth, even leaving the city centre wasn’t bad, apart from motorcycles cutting you up continuously, and the sat nav sending you along a road for buses only and the usual other nuances. Once out of the city, the highway was almost empty and got us up to Trikala in about 4 hours, where we randomly stopped for lunch at a taverna by the river. The food was the best yet, and a feast cost us €13, helped on by a stranger who bought us two beers. He seemed to be a friend of the taverna owner, I have to say the people here are as friendly as you’ll ever see. 

Then we went onwards to Kalambaka, the service town for Meteora, but quickly drove on by to Kastraki, a village right under the rocks and absolutely beautiful, with a much more laid back vibe than Kalambaka has. As I write, I sit on our balcony with a view. 

We did our own sunset drive around the monasteries, of which there are six that are still functioning, there are several more ruined ones too. 

Today, after a breakfast to die for, consisting of lots of pastries, cheese and cake, which pleased a certain person,  we first of all hiked up to the Adrachi, the column in the above picture, which is said to resemble Jesus, a very pleasant shady walk past a few houses and churches. Then we headed up by car again to visit some of the monasteries by day. 

A courtyard of one of the monasteries. The inside of the churches on them are extremely ornate, covered in frescos going back to the 14th century in some of them. You’re not allowed to take photos inside. 

Back in the day, they used to haul the monks up and down in a net attached to a hoist, hand wound by other, hopefully strong and trustworthy, monks. You’re looking at a good 100 feet straight down in one of these

One of the monasteries had an “Ossuary” in it, full of skulls and bones. Not sure what that means yet, if it’s all the dead monks or what 

I was curious about the level of security they have on these places. Is it to keep intruders out, or the monks in? 

Lisa enjoys a blue sky, Queen of the castle, it has been a lovely day of about 33C or so

Later in the afternoon we hiked well over a kilometre down a steep track the monks used to use, to the edge of Kalambaka, for no obvious reason except to get a drink in a typical  local taverna where friendly cats and tortoises running amok

I would have to say that Meteora is a must-see of Greece, it’s absolutely stunning and well worth the trek to get up here. Next stop, we think is going to be to drive through the mountains to Karpenissi, there a bit of a threat of some thunderstorms though so even will see. 

Posted from Kastraki, Thessalia Sterea Ellada, Greece.

Athens 

We had a pretty smooth journey over, despite Southern Trains’ best efforts to make us miss our flight from Gatwick, only to arrive to rain as we got off the plane. Definitely not what we signed up for! The small hotel we have is in the Plaka district, close to the Acropolis and the action is fabulous, and a snip at €80 a night. One short flight of stairs from our room gets you to the roof terrace, and from there, this is the view, by night 

And by day

Today has been the usual touristy things, naturally the Acropolis, this is fairly obviously the Parthenon 

and this is the Erichtheion

This is the Odeon, which is a little more atmospheric than your typical counterpart back home. Last night’s performance was cancelled because of the spot of rain! 

There’s another old Theatre of Dionysos,  where I have the best seat in the house 

We were impressed that they have facilities to get wheelchair access to the Acropolis itself, though the arrangements may not work out too well if you have a fear of heights 

There’s a walk along the north slope of the hill below it, nice and peaceful and apparently where graffiti artists hang out

Next on the list was Ancient Agora, with a somewhat Parthenon-like building

A cute church 

All over the place are stones and statues that have been recovered and awaiting re-siting. Lots of the statues have had their heads chopped off

Right through the middle of the site is a tube line, I hate to think what they carved up when they put that in

Finally we stopped off at the Temple of Olmpyian Zeus, another very quiet spot as everyone else seems to focus only on the Acropolis 

Tonight we’re off to sample some nightlife before getting up early tomorrow, ie somewhere before 10, to pick up our rental lawnmower to head up the mainland for a few days before doing a little island hopping