Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dancing with Zorba

Anyone who has traveled knows those days that have proven so stressful that you wonder why you put yourself through it. And they also know the sheer joy of those travel experiences that can be termed 'magical'. Today we danced with Zorba in a manner of speaking in what might be the best outing of our trip so far. Earlier posts on this blog noted Stavros, the beach where "Zorba the Greek" was filmed as a possible novel destination. We almost skipped it in lieu of returning to the heart of Hania for our last day; are we glad we didn't.

Stavros Beach, where Zorba did his famous 'sirtaki' dance is on a beautiful cove at the base of a rocky mountain (it is this mountain in the film that Zorba's ill-fated logging plan failed). There were few beach chairs set up and a single concession on the beach - in fact there isn't much in Stavros (a plus!) other than a few restaurants and beach homes.

We dined at a restaurant, Mama's Place, across from the beach that had been operating since 1951. The cast and crew had dined at the Vasiliki family restaurant while filming and being unable to pronounce her first name had simply called her 'mama' and the rest is history. Petros Vasiliki was 16 at the time the movie was filmed and today he is a white-haired 61-year-old who runs the restaurant and tells tales about the days of Stavros in 1964 when the film put the place on the map.

The food was excellent, the setting perfect and our visit with Petros, one of those experiences that make travel worthwhile.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Goat bells, olive groves and gorges

Our first week is coming far too quickly to an end. We've taken the advice of Andres, our co-manager/host at Lefka Apartments and taken the off-the-beaten-path roads to places where the tourist buses don't, actually couldn't go, because of the narrow roads and hairpin turns along the way. Think Hart's Pass in Mazama or the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Our little Renault, a car the size of Herbie my VW, is about as big as one would want to be in on the single lane roads that lead through a gorge darkened by the cliff overhangs to heights that are so dizzying that you really don't want to look down from the guard-rail-less road carved out of the rocky hillside to the drop below. The island's Samaria Gorge is popular with hikers and a well-known tourist destination, but our travels through Therisso Gorge only a few kilomters from Chania was pretty spectacular. The roadwayloops its way up hillsides in hairpin turns so sharp that you breath a sigh of relief to have successfully navigated them.

The rocky hillsides are covered with vast amounts of olive groves and goat herds -- many herds chose to lay in the roadway or at its side; it wasn't unusual to make a hairpin turn and find ourselves looking eye to eye with one or two goats. The silence of the hills was broken only by the sound of their hollow tinkling goat bells.

Celebrating International Tourism Day - Sept. 27th

Don't think we realized there was such a celebration until we experienced it first-hand on Sunday during our visit to Rethymno, a port city with a strong Venetian influence, about 45 minutes from our Venetian Chania. We'd heard talk at our pool bar about the celebration but hadn't paid much attention to it.

We stumbled across the Rethymno Tourism headquarters about 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning and found they had set up cocktail tables outside their building decked out with white table cloths and at one end of their courtyard they served tea and cookies and on the other end poured glasses of wine and appetizers. Inside tables were set up like a cruise ship buffet -- including the carved watermelons -- and all of which were Cretan specialities.

Another table offered brochures and information about the prefecture (county) of Rethymno. Staff members assured me this was an annual celebration and one it appears taken quite seriously. Back 'home' in Hania, we didn't get a chance to visit the tourism center, but noted two huge fireworks displays over the bay at nightfall.

Speaking of tourism, the Europeans are not paying heed to 'staycations' like Americans. This northwestern end of Crete is full of tourists, they are filling restaurants, spilling out on to the streets -- a fellow guest at Lefka Apts. tells us there are 15 flights a day from Norway to Crete. . . .tourism seems alive and well here - no wonder such spectacular celebrations.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cats of Greece

A photo is worth a thousand words, right? So, need I say more? The cats of Greece are known throughout the world . . . calendars feature them, books, tourist items galore. Lefka Apartments has a set of two white/red kitties that are the official cats, but then we have the one pictured here. She just showed up last spring we are told. And she is fed along with the official cats but is still considered the outcast.

We were greeted by this little creature and have now given in to her persistent charms, a tuna can food dish is now a part of our deck and yogurt, tuna, leftovers (and Greek cookies) are all favorites of our new friend. She isn't allowed inside so makes it a point of jumping on my lap while sitting on the deck -- she's an intelligent little beast; she knows an easy mark when she sees one

Easy Jet ~ Easy Coffee

Several of you expressed some concern over our flying Easy Jet to Crete. . .was it safe? What kind of aircraft, had we flown it before? Answers: yes, we have flown it before and would do it again in an instant. Speaking of instant, that is my lead in to Starbucks. . .

Easy Jet with its cheapy flights to detinations throughout Europe was proudly announcing Starbucks was being served on board. It was: in instant packets. You could choose medium bodied and receive a tube of Columbian instant or strong and get the Italian instant and a cup of hot water. The cost 3E per cup. Starbucks hot chocolate - another powdered packet was 3E per cup and Tazo tea 2.50E.

We tried to buy instant packets at the Starbuck's in Chania, but the clerk said it hadn't yet arrived. . .he had only been shown packets by folks stopping by hoping to replenish their stock as we had been (we bought ours at Houghton in Kirkland).

As for Easy Jet, our aircraft was an Airbus - modern and comfortable.

On a final Easy Jet note, those of you who followed the packing know that we opted for the Rick Steves' travel plan: take carryon liquids, lighten the load, bring the bag with you no need to check it. . .it worked well on British Air but Easy Jet has a one bag limit carry-on and that bag could be a purse. . .so 16 pounds (about $25) each carryon bag later, our suitcases were checked. . .and I carried on the tiny liquids in a plastic bag in my purse; Joel carried the Netbook. The good news though is I get to buy all sorts of olive oil beauty items from hair masques to foot creams and for a fraction of the price I would pay back home!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kalimera from Chania!

Kalimera (Good Morning) from our home away from home in Chania, Crete. We arrived here mid-afternoon Wednesday per our earlier schedule of British Air to London Heathrow, followed by an overnight at the Courtyard Marriott, walking distance to Gatwick Airport, followed by a 7 a.m. flight to Heraklion (Iraklion). Our rental car arrangement worked like a charm. A fellow met us at the Crete airport, took us to the car and within 15 minutes of arriving we were on the road to Chania.

Driving here is as interesting as driving in Mexico. . .here they pull partially on to the shoulder and stay partially in the right lane to alert you that you can pass - on hills, curves, straightways, it doesn't seem to matter much to them. On coming cars do the same so the problems arise when the two passing cars in opposite directions both need to be partially over the center line. Keeps the drive interesting to say the least. And as we had been advised, we do not need International licenses to drive in Crete.

Our Lefka apartments really are as nice as all those Trip Advisor reviews kept telling us they would be. We are in a studio, with well equipped (dishes, utensils, microwave, two-burner stove, refridgerator, coffee pot and hot water pot) kitchen, couch, television, two twin beds put together, small but spotlessly clean bathroom and we have balcony that looks out over the pool.
I took the photo an hour ago while sipping fresh squeezed orange juice. . .
The grounds of this 16-unit building are an oasis in this bustling city. The gate leads under an arbor of bouganvilla in full bloom, past canna lillies, towering pandamus, a lemon tree and roses. The pool bar is where we dined last night -- I had pork souvlaki and Joel the bbq'ed swordfish -- served with Greek potato salad, french fries and Greek salad, for 7E and 8E, respectively. Too much for a single meal so will dine on it again tonight. Our complimentary dessert of Greek yogurt with a dried cherry cinnamon sauce was served with muscat wine.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


If all goes as planned by Wednesday we will be in Chania (pronounced 'Hanya') Crete, where we have rented a studio apartment for a week at the rate of 50E per night at Lefka Apartments (http://www.lefka-apartments.gr/). As we re-read traveler's reviews (http://www.tripadvisor.com/) of the place we are eager to experience it first-hand. We will be slightly out of the picturesque Venetian Quarter that borders the harbor but are assured that buses run regularly past our apartments, so should have easy access to it and other local points of interest.

Crete is the largest and most southern of the Greek Islands and is the fifth largest of Mediterranian islands. Touring the island will take us from the Bronze Age of its Minoan civilization, to Ottoman mosques and Venetian fortresses . . . and the Greek andRoman temples. . .and the sandy beaches and white mountains.

We land at the Iraklia airport where we will rent a car to drive to Chania and to use exploring at least a portion of the western tip of the island during our stay. (We are assured by several companies that we've contacted that International driver's licenses are not required for car rental here).
Next report from on the road in Crete. . .

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crete is calling

A week from today our dateline will be Chania, Crete. A friend asked if I would share some of our tips for finding inexpensive accommodations, so here are some of the web sites we've used: http://www.paros-accommodations.com/ We stayed in a waterfront hotel in Paros (an island in the Greek Cyclades)for 40E per night that included a buffet breakfast in April 2008. A quick check of this web site this morning, showed nine listed that are available the end of this month ranging from 20 - 28E per night; and some are studios.

We also use http://www.venere.com/ which offers accommodations ranging from luxury to cheap places. Another favorite: http://www.greeka.com/

We usually double check http://www.tripadvisor.com/ to see what other travelers might have said about the place. While opinions can vary widely, if a place gets high ratings many times, we don't hesitate to book it. Such is the case with the Lefka Apartments we have booked in Chania. Trip Advisors comment that they couldn't believe a place was as good as that described by other travelers until they arrived and experienced it. We will report in after our arrival.

We also found on our last trip to Greece that people do wait at the ferry dock with hand-printed signs advertising rooms for rent at incredibly low prices. . .so armed with our web sites and sense of adventure, we are holding fast to the plan to have no reservations in Greece and no set island destination other than our first week in Crete (and that is because we knew we wanted to further explore Crete and would easily fill a week or more doing just that).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Countdown: Greece

Yesterday a friend asked for our itinerary. "We have none," I replied. A brief silence followed.

Actually as the departure date nears, we have added a stop to our return, so we know where we will be for the first week (Chania, Crete) and the last five nights. We've included 5 nights in Paris to our return routing, thanks to Mr. Marriott and those loyalty points that lured us in to a timeshare purchase two years ago. (http://www.marriottvacationclub.com/). We will fly from Athens to Paris on EasyJet, the cheapie airline for $73E p/p. (http://www.easyjet.com/).

As for yesterday's bombing in two Greek cities (one at the Athens Stock Exchange) . . .we are still heading to Greece, as of this writing. The BBC reports that the bombers called a local newspaper alerting folks to the bomb and allowing police to seal off the area before it detonated. Couldn't help but wonder if they used the news tip line?

Jackie took the photos on this post in Naousa on the north coast of Paros, an island in the Cyclades. We took the public bus ($2.40E) from where we were staying to this once-fishing-village, turned somewhat touristy-fishing village.


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